by Laura Plummer
Despite being your first grandchild, I didn’t feel close to you as I was growing up. I lived two hours away and only saw you a couple of times a year on holidays. You were a mythical figure, like the characters in my picture books. You hid dollar bills in our Easter eggs, baked elaborate cakes, and gave the best hugs. But I never had a genuine conversation with you.
When I was 13, Mom had moved out, and I was desperate for female guidance, someone I could tell about my new feelings and experiences. These were the days before email, and talking on the phone made me nervous. So I sat down at my dad’s computer and typed you a letter. The next day, I mailed it out, unsure what to expect.
A week later, I received your handwritten response, and my heart did a cartwheel. “I was so delighted to hear from you,” it began. And suddenly, I had a pen pal and an outlet for my teenage angst. You showed such an interest in my life, my goals and my dreams. I could tell you anything without fear of being judged. In retrospect, you were my first therapist.
Your legendary warmth came through in your words: “I just know you’re going to do great in school this year.” You dispensed practical advice: “Don’t overload your schedule” and “Make sure to wash your whites separately.” And you offered your unconditional support: “If you ever need someone to talk to or have a problem, I will always be here for you, no matter what.”
Your letters were the high point of my week, a welcome distraction from homework and babysitting my sister. Every day after school, I rushed to the mailbox to see if it contained an envelope with your distinctive handwriting and your signature smiley face on the flap. When one arrived, I hurried to my room, eager to discover its secrets.
You never failed to write a thorough and thoughtful response to my previous letter, despite your declining health. A lifetime of putting others’ needs ahead of your own had caught up with you. You described hearing loss, dizzy spells, and fatigue. Dialysis three times a week. But you bore it all with tremendous grace, writing, “Life isn’t always easy, but I love life and thank God daily for all I do have.”
Even while suffering, you expressed limitless gratitude for your Creator. “He has given us so much,” you wrote. “I talk to Him all the time.” You spoke of God as a wise and gentle parent, and encouraged me to cultivate my own relationship with Him: “God loves you at all times and will always be there for you.”
You planted your tulips before the ground froze and looked forward to watching them bloom the following spring. “I love that time of year,” you wrote. “Flowers start to come out from hiding all winter. The birds start coming back.” In one of your last letters, you discussed your plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas—holidays you wouldn’t live to see.
Twenty-four years later, I still visit your letters from time to time. They are a testament to a relationship that almost never existed. Over eight months, we went from virtual strangers to friends who shared a unique bond transcending age and distance. I will forever consider our correspondence a divine gift that allowed us to forge a friendship before it was too late.
About the Writer
Laura Plummer is an American writer and poet from Massachusetts. Her work has been featured in numerous print and online publications, including The Sun and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Read more at lauraplummer.me.
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Photo Credit: Photo of Nana, by Laura Plummer. All rights reserved.