It lay in my jewelry box for decades. At the bottom, underneath the jumble of necklaces, the neatly sorted earrings in their individual slots on the trays. It had been opened, it had been read, but then I put it away and did not turn to it again for a good long time. "Open only if" it said on the outside. And if happened. My father, contemplating an unlikely, but possible death.
Taking care of the heart always has its risks, but they got greater when there were so many cuts involved. He was 56, an age I'm looking at now, and he did not want to die. He told my mother that one day as he stood in the kitchen, looking out the window toward that uncertain future. She said to him what any of us would have said, "Ray, you're not going to die." But then he did. He did and in his not terribly organized way, he wanted to be prepared. So before he packed his bags and headed to the hospital, he sat down and wrote each child a letter, calling out the inventory of things he loved about them, things he wished for them. When the funeral and all attendant food and talk and family had grown quiet, subsided, my mother reached into the box full of important papers and took out the letters and passed them to us as we sat around the kitchen table.
I can tell you what it said, except I've been busy remembering what I THINK it should have said ever since in the past 35 years. Something about my beauty, my sharp tongue and quick wit. My firm jaw. That I made an old man happy. But, wait, not so old, really. And I was certain it told me to take care of my mother. 21 and I started rearranging my life to carry out that last request, making sure I was there to shovel snow and look to car repair and plant bulbs in the garden and suggest changes to her diet. The years rolled out and each of them marked another period of attention to taking care of mom. Except, some long time after, some therapist visit later . . .