Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Postcards (08/29/05)
TITLE: Ann's Legacy
By Beth Muehlhausen
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The hush of death hung in Ann’s room, interrupted only by clicking from the metal box with the red light. Tubes penetrated her body from every angle, climbing across her face, under her blankets, into her arms. Although heavily sedated with morphine, her eyes popped open when I cupped her cheeks in my hands: “Ann! It’s me! Guess what I found!”
My sister was dying.
Looking into her eyes, her life history seemed to march before me – or at least what I remembered of it. Although eleven years older than I, in some ways she never matured. Ann played dress-up with me, taught me to swim, and sent me letters from college. But as an adult she preferred relationships with children, struggled with debilitating fatigue, failed in the workplace, and fought chronic and compounding health issues and financial failure.
“Ann, I found the written stuff in your closet! I’m going to write your book for you!”
Moments before the nurse had warned me: “Don’t expect much, honey. She’s totally unresponsive.” But when Ann heard the urgent promise in my voice, her eyes searched mine and her forehead wrinkled with intense emotion. Her chin quivered; a torrent of tears rolled down her cheeks. Did she hear me? Did she?? Her passion to publish a book cried out to me, even on her death-bed. Her own attempts had faltered. The last chapter, the one needed to make sense of her struggle, had remained a blank page.
She hung on for several days, but then passed away - just after midnight.
With a focus fueled by regret and pain, I tore into the contents of her dilapidated house. Could I force order out of chaos? Hours and days later after sorting, piling, boxing, and discarding, it was time to probe deeper - into the closets. I returned to my earlier discovery: stacks of yellow legal pads, bulging three-ring binders, and boxes full of loose papers and old letters.
As I flipped the lid off a heavy box, various travel memoirs greeted me. “She always dreamed about returning to Europe,” I whispered to myself, remembering her summer hike across England as a college student so many years before. Now her yearning to see those moors again was buried along with her body.
I sat down on the floor of Ann’s closet to study the contents of that particular box. A tall stack of postcards caught my eye, then a plastic sack full of airmail letters written on thin tissue paper folders. They were all dated 1959, which was the summer I turned ten; the same summer Ann toured Europe, just before her twenty-first birthday. I soon discovered a card she had written to me from her steamship as she crossed the Atlantic.
“There are children on the ship, and they remind me of you. Guess what I saw the other day in the ocean? I looked over the side of the ship and saw a dark thing come up out of the water and begin spurting water into the air. It was a whale! But it was small, so it must have been a baby.”
Then my reply to her emerged from the box, scrawled in penciled letters complete with spelling errors.
“Next weekend Mom is going to take me over to the Academy to dive off a diving bord for the first time. I can dive pretty good excep my feet sometimes go apart.”
Overwhelmed with loss, I pushed aside the stack of tourist postcards and the wrinkly airmail letters. She was gone. Her youthful adventures were short-lived, her victories few and far between. After college she succumbed to decades of limited success. I couldn’t know that within several months I would be shocked by an alleged posthumous diagnosis: Asperger’s syndrome, a higher form of autism.
I sat on the floor of Ann’s closet for several hours. With her earthly life now over, my job loomed with mounting importance. I must compile her book…and compose that final chapter about the possibility of Asperger’s and the reality of her eternal healing. She was with the Lord, after all, perfect and whole.
I discovered Ann’s heart there in the closet among her essays, assorted correspondence, and piles of photographed pictures. Hers was a lonely life, fraught with social inadequacies and misunderstandings. But her recorded ideas, beliefs, feelings, and observations became a legacy that day. I will remember her adventurous spirit; her acceptance, patience, tenacity, expectancy, and childlike trust in a faithful God.
A note from the author: This story is based on truth. My 66-year-old sister passed away last January. Her prolific and profound writings, letters, and photographs are stored in boxes, awaiting my edits.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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