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last letters

this is the last chapter in my memoir “Once Upon A Farm”…

Finding the good in goodbye.

It was the twentieth of February 2015 and seventy degrees outside.

I know it was because I wrote about it in my journal. It was unseasonably warm for a winter’s day in Indiana. And I had taken Indy outside to play . . . a couple of times. We had walked down by the Gaithers’ pond and watched the geese and black swans swim and walked to a playground nearby behind the Nazarene church, and I had pushed Indy on the swings. Then she played in the leaves in the driveway. It’s all there in my journal, but I also remember it like it was yesterday. Probably because the weather was so nice that day after what seemed like months of snow and ice and freezing temperatures.

In the evening I grilled chicken on the back deck, and we made mojitos (one of our favorite drinks we had learned to make from our many trips to Key West, Florida). When the chicken was ready, I sat and had dinner with Joey beside her bed. For dessert, we shared a cup of coffee and a homemade Almond Joy that Joey’s best friend, Julie, had made and left in the freezer for us to pull out and enjoy whenever we had a sweet tooth. After the sunset, we watched some of the movie Grumpy Old Men on the TV in the corner above her nightstand, and then I tucked her in. Joey said she wanted to pray, so I knelt down beside her and took her hand.

She wanted to say the prayer “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and so we did, or at least we tried to. But she couldn’t remember the next line, and so I said, “I pray the Lord my soul to keep.” The morphine caused her memory to be as shaky as her hands were becoming. We prayed that prayer a couple of times, and then I kissed her softly, and she told me she loved me three times, and I did the same, just as we always did. Then she asked if I had her dress ready.

“Yes, your sisters have it ready,” I answered. “And my jean jacket to go over it?” she asked.

“It’s ready too,” I said.

“I finished the letters today . . . will you print them for me?” she asked.

She had been talking about writing goodbye letters to her mama and daddy and our girls for weeks. Months. With all the morphine coursing through her veins, it was hard for her to stay focused long enough to finish them, but she’d finally written what she wanted to say and what she wanted them to read. To have when she’s gone.

“Of course, I will,” I told her.

And then she reached over to a lamp beside her bed and pulled down what looked like a braided ponytail that had been hanging on the handle. It was some tail hair from her horse, Ria. The red roan that she’d received for her fortieth birthday but got to ride only once. She held it softly with both hands and said, “I’d like it to be in my hands, like this…” and she gently wrapped the braid around her thin, frail fingers.

I told her that it would all be just as she wanted. And then assured her again that everything was going to be okay and that I would take good care of Indiana. She smiled softly and said, “I know you will.” Then said she would be watching from above . . . and to forgive her if she nags me.

Who says something like that? With a kind smile, knowing what the coming days would bring? I don’t think I could have. I can only pray that I might have half her love and compassion when my time comes.

A few days after Joey passed away, I handed out the letters to her parents and to our older daughters, Heidi and Hopie, and one to her oldest sister, Jody, who had taken the last five months off from work and stayed by Joey’s side and even slept in the bed across the room from her for the same length of time.

Besides the printed letters that Joey had written, in each envelope was a check. A portion of the life insurance money she wanted each of them to have. Joey’s hope was that the money, like the letters and words she penned, might be a blessing.

I can only imagine how precious those letters are to each of them today. Something to have and hold that Joey took the time to write specifically to them. Words from her heart to theirs.

It has been a year and a half since I handed them out… and yet our middle daughter, Hopie, has never read her letter from Joey. I have asked her about it a few times, and she always answers the same way . . . “I’m not ready.” Something tells me that her answer is about more than just being ready to read the letters, it’s about being ready to say goodbye. In Hopie’s mind, I’m sure, it is all she has left of Joey. The last words she will ever hear from her mother.

I have a copy of that letter here on this laptop that I am writing on. I read it again this evening as tears rolled down my cheek, thinking of how painful it must have been for Joey to write those words. To have to choose what things to say and what to leave out. I so wish I could tell you what Hopie’s letter says, but I can’t. It isn’t my place. But I can tell you that it is beautiful. Just as the one to Heidi is too. As beautiful as goodbye letters from a mother to her daughters can be.

I’d also like to tell you that Joey wrote and left me a last letter too. A special envelope filled with treasured words that I keep in a drawer by our bed or a lockbox beneath my desk. But I can’t. Joey didn’t leave a letter for me. Instead, she left me something else to remind me how much she loves me.

Indiana is the sweetest, most beautiful love letter a man like me could ever hope to have. She is a letter that never stops speaking to me. One that covered me in kisses this evening before she went to sleep. And one that will wake me in the morning with a great big smile . . . reminding me that part of Joey is still here with me. With all of us.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, honey.



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