“She was Christmas,” Dowling, 95, mentioned of his spouse, who he was married to for 70 years. “She did all the pieces large; all of the cooking and baking.”
She died on Dec. 1, 2013, after battling Alzheimer’s. That 12 months, Dowling and his daughter, Suzan Brito, took down the tree and canceled Christmas.
“My father couldn’t deal with it,” mentioned Brito, who lives with Dowling — a World Battle II Navy veteran — and is his major caretaker. “He’s solely been with one girl in his complete life, and he or she’s gone. When December 1 hits, my dad will get actually unhappy.”
The next 12 months, as December approached, Brito brainstormed methods to cheer up her father, whose grief was all-consuming.
“Dad loves getting mail,” mentioned Brito, 64. “I assumed, perhaps some Christmas playing cards would make him blissful.”
She referred to as out to her household and associates on Fb, asking folks to ship her father a Christmas card. To her delight, they did.
“That first 12 months, he received about 30,” she mentioned. “It carried him by the entire month of December.”
The playing cards served their goal, so Brito determined to do it yearly. Yearly, in late November, she posts a request on Fb and consists of their residence deal with. Household, associates — in addition to some strangers — ship him heartfelt vacation needs. In 2018, Dowling acquired 102 letters.
“He at all times appears ahead to them,” Brito mentioned, including that he reads each card and letter, and proudly tapes them to the partitions round their residence.
Final Christmas, the cardboard depend plummeted to 14.
“It didn’t carry him,” mentioned Brito, explaining that final Christmas was significantly exhausting for her father. “He’s struggling as a result of he misses my mother.”
“This 12 months, I used to be like, I’m not going to let that occur once more,” Brito mentioned. “My dad is my greatest good friend.”
She posted her card request on Fb sooner than typical, and her daughter — whose social media community is bigger than hers — supplied to share it, too.
“We now have been doing this since my grandmother handed,” Charlene Fletcher, 45, posted on Facebook, asking people to send her grandfather cards. “It helps him get by the vacation.”
“He goes on the porch on a regular basis and checks the mail,” she continued. “Hope yow will discover it in your coronary heart to ship him one.”
“I’ve by no means seen so many playing cards,” mentioned Dowling, who served within the Navy from 1944 to 1946 and was a baker on the USS Liguria. “It feels actual good.”
Brito, for her half, was astonished.
“That is the largest, neatest thing that might ever occur to him,” she mentioned.
“It’s simply occurring and on,” Brito continued. “We’re averaging 2,000 playing cards a day.”
Playing cards have are available in from all around the United States (together with Alaska), in addition to Canada, the UK, Europe, South America, Australia and Asia. Whereas some are handcrafted by youngsters, others are written by adults. Some playing cards showcase cute Christmas drawings, and lots of specific empathy for Dowling’s vacation grief.
“The letters are simply wonderful,” mentioned Fletcher, who visits her grandfather within the evenings and helps him type by the playing cards.
Fletcher has additionally acquired messages from strangers, thanking her for bringing her grandfather to their consideration. They discover his story relatable.
“My father’s title was George, he handed 6 years in the past and he liked Christmas,” one girl from Alabama wrote her. “It hasn’t been the identical till this 12 months once I occurred upon your ‘George.’”
“I wished to say thanks. It has been such a blessing to me and introduced again a whole lot of my Christmas spirit to attempt to make it easier to with this,” she continued. “You and your George have helped me take pleasure in this Christmas greater than any of the final 6.”
“It’s so heartwarming,” Fletcher mentioned. “These days, folks don’t actually open up like that, particularly to a stranger. They really feel related to him.”
Day-after-day, a mail provider exhibits up with a number of bins of playing cards, and Dowling excitedly ventures to the entrance porch to retrieve them. Studying them “retains my thoughts busy,” he mentioned. It additionally reminds him that “persons are good.”
Along with playing cards, Dowling — who has 4 youngsters, three grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren — has additionally acquired quite a few presents, together with sweet, cheese platters, stuffed animals, present playing cards, pajamas and handmade knitwear. He additionally received a card and decoration from the White House Historical Association, in addition to letters and trinkets from native officers. Pawtucket police placed on a drive-by parade exterior his residence Dec. 9.
“It’s been loopy,” mentioned Dowling, who mentioned he seems like a star currently. In current days, he has been stopped on the streets, on the grocery store and at eating places by followers who’ve seen his story.
“He’s very quiet and shy, however in every single place we go, folks say ‘Grandpa George!’” mentioned Brito, a retired nurse who takes care of her father full-time. “Folks ask him for his autograph. Individuals are taking photos with him.”
“It’s making him so blissful,” she mentioned.
Up to now, Dowling’s favourite card is from a 4-year-old lady named Nina.
“I really like you George. You’re my greatest good friend. Merry Christmas,” she wrote, and included a drawing of a colourful Christmas tree.
“It’s unbelievable,” mentioned Dowling, including that there are too many playing cards to answer by hand, however he’s sincerely grateful for every one.
Whereas he nonetheless misses his spouse, he mentioned, the surprising present of assist from folks close to and much has made this vacation season a cheerful one.
“I can’t cease smiling for him,” his daughter mentioned.