Corinne J., Tennessee
“Clara, it’s time for breakfast!” Clara’s mom, Amy, called for her from the kitchen where she had been making a delicious breakfast. Clara, a small girl of seven with short brown hair, set her crayons down on her desk and walked from her pink-walled bedroom to the kitchen.
“Here’s your plate,” her mother said as she handed a plate full of eggs, a piece of bacon, and, her personal favorite part of the meal, a biscuit with syrup. Clara took the plate and sat down at her usual place at the table. She took a sip of her orange juice as she waited for her mom and dad to sit down as well. When they did sit down, her dad, Derek, bowed his head, and her mom followed suit. Clara squeezed her eyes shut and clasped her small hands in her lap.
“Dear Father, we thank you for this day and for this food set before us,” her dad prayed, “and we ask that you would guide us in our worship on this beautiful Sunday morning. Amen.” All three family members lifted their heads and began to eat.
After a few bites, Amy paused and asked Clara, “Did you finish your letter to send to your grandmother?”
Clara set down her fork and nodded. “I had just finished coloring a picture for her when you called me.”
Her mom smiled and reached to push a piece of Clara’s hair behind her ear. “Well, you can give it to me after church, and I’ll put it in an envelope for you.” Clara smiled back and continued eating.
Her dad tilted his head to study her. “You’re awfully quiet this morning, sweetheart. What’s going on inside that head of yours?”
Clara looked up from her plate thoughtfully. “I’m just thinking about Grandma. I don’t want her to be sick.” Clara’s stomach soured at the reminder, and a tear slipped down her cheek.
“Aww, honey.” Her dad scooted closer in his chair and put an arm around her shoulders. “It’s going to be ok. She’s in the hospital, but that means that they’re going to make her better. That’s what the nurses are there for. She’s going to be fine.” Clara nodded and sniffed. Then she took one last bite, stood up, took her plate to the sink, and walked to her room.
After she had left, Amy looked at Derek and shook her head. “This has really gotten her down these past few days. She’s just not her normal self.” Derek stood up and nodded. “I know. But surely she’ll get better soon. Addie, I mean- her grandmother. The doctor has already said that she’s improving.” Amy frowned, but kept her mouth closed tightly. Derek quickly walked over to her and put an arm around her. “I’m sorry, honey. I wasn’t thinking. It’ll be ok.” Amy took a shuddering breath and stood up and took her dishes to the sink.
In her room, Clara picked up the letter for her grandmother and folded it. Last year in school, Clara had been required to write a letter to someone. She had chosen to write to her grandmother. Her grandmother received it and wrote back. Naturally, Clara had sent another letter to her. And they had never stopped since. It had become the highlight of Clara’s week- receiving the letter. A knock on her door shook Clara from her thoughts as the door opened.
“It’s just me,” her mom said as she came in and closed the door. “Let’s find something for you to wear to church.” She walked to the closet, and Clara followed her. She began to rifle through the dresses hanging up until she came across Clara’s favorite one. “How about this one?” Clara nodded, her blue eyes brightening. The dress was a light purple, and at the waist it flared out in many layers of fabric. Amy went out so Clara could dress and then came back in to help her finish getting ready for church.
Clara was able to forget about her grandmother during church and Sunday school, but after she got home, Amy announced that they were going to see her after lunch.
As they approached the door to the room that Addie was in, Clara’s chin quivered, and she stopped walking.
“What’s wrong?” Amy asked as she bent down and took her hand.
Clara shook her head and whispered, “I’m scared.”
“It’s going to be ok. It will be strange seeing her in this room, and she might look a little bit pale, but she’s still the same person she was before she came here. She still loves you.” Clara swallowed and nodded. She took both her mom and dad’s hands and walked forward between them. Derek pushed open the door, and they stepped inside. Clara’s eyes burned with tears when she saw the thin, pale lady lying on the hospital bed. Addie was lying back, resting. But when she heard them come in, her eyes fluttered open, and she smiled slowly, as if it took a great deal of strength.
“Hi, Mom,” Amy said as she gently led Clara towards the bed. “We thought you might enjoy a few visitors.”
“Of course! I don’t get many visitors these days,” Addie said as she carefully reached over and pushed the button that raised her bed. Addie tilted her head as she asked, “Clara, why are you hiding behind your mother? I look worse than I really feel. I’m just so pale because I can hardly get any sleep in this place! You want to know why?”
Clara was intrigued, so she peeked out from behind Amy’s waist. “Why?”
Addie gave her a reassuring smile and patted the bed. “Come sit with me, and I’ll tell you.” When Clara didn’t move, Amy took her hand and pulled her to the bed and then picked her up and sat her down beside Addie. When she was properly seated, Addie leaned forward for extra emphasis and said, “It’s because all these nurses insist on checking on me every hour.” She leaned back and folded her arms. “It’s literally every hour. Just as I’m starting to drift off to sleep again, they come in and start punching buttons. And you know what sound it makes?” She asked as she turned to Clara again.
“What?” Clara asked, intrigued by her grandmother’s story.
“It goes like this- beep, beep, beep, beep!” With each “beep” Addie poked Clara in the stomach, making Clara giggle and gasp for breath.
Once Clara had stopped giggling, her face turned sober as she asked, “Grandma, when are you going to go back to your house? You’ll be able to sleep better there.”
Addie smiled and pulled Clara into a gentle hug, stroking her hair. “I’ll go home soon, I’m sure. The nurses say I’m getting better, slowly but surely.” She let go of Clara, and they both straightened up. “I have something for you,” she grunted as she leaned over the side of the bed and pulled a box out from underneath the bed. She opened it and pulled out a big, pink, stuffed bear. “Now, whenever you hug this bear, I want you to remember two things. One, Jesus loves you. And two, always be kind. Even when you don’t want to, always be kind.”
At that moment, a nurse holding a clipboard came in and said, “I’m so sorry, everyone. I’m afraid we have to run some tests, so I’ll have to ask you all to leave. Maybe you can come back tomorrow after she has had some rest.”
Addie frowned, “But they just got here.”
The nurse smiled and said, “You have two minutes, so please say your goodbyes. You are welcome to come back tomorrow, if you like.” With that, she turned and left.
“Before you go, there’s another part to your present,” Addie said after handing Clara the pink bear. She pulled a blue book out of the box. “This is a journal, a place to write down your thoughts and feelings. You can also draw pictures in it if you like,” she added with a smile after she had handed it to Clara.
Amy stood up and walked over to the bed. “Clara just finished her letter to you this morning. I guess we’ll just leave it with you for now.”
Addie smiled. “That’s just fine.” She turned to give Clara one last hug, and then gave Amy and Derek a hug, too. On the car ride home, Clara hugged the plush bear and repeated in her head the things her grandmother had told her. One, Jesus loves you. Two, always be kind.
Although Clara had left the hospital feeling happy, after Amy and Derek had tucked her into bed, she couldn’t ignore the tears. She couldn’t forget how pale and tired her grandmother had looked. Over and over again, Clara repeated the words her grandmother had told her while hugging the pink bear until she fell asleep.
The next morning, Clara went to school just like always, and was able to forget about her grandmother until she got into the car that afternoon.
After a few minutes of silence, Amy asked from the driver’s seat, “So, how was school today, Clara?”
“Pretty good,” Clara answered. “Have you heard anything about Grandma?”
It was several seconds before Amy replied, “Let’s talk about that when we get home, ok?”
As soon as they got home, Amy took Clara into the living room and sat down beside her on the couch.
“Clara . . . “ she stopped and closed her eyes and rubbed her forehead. “I don’t want to tell you this, but,” she paused to swallow. “I have to tell you.” She sighed. “Grandma died in her sleep last night.” When she saw the tears brimming in Clara’s eyes, she added, “The nurses said it was peaceful. She wasn’t in any pain and . . . “ She stopped and scooted closer to Clara who was now crying. “Aww, honey. She went to a better place. You know what? She’s not in any pain anymore. She’ll never have pain again.”
“I know that, but I didn’t want her to die,” Clara said between sobs.
“I know, honey, I know,” Amy murmured as tears of her own spilled over.
Half an hour later, Derek came home from work and found them both sound asleep on the couch.
That night before she went to bed, Clara wrote about the last time she had seen her grandmother in the journal Addie had given her. Then she curled up in bed and went straight to sleep, the bear in her arms.
Although the next three days went on just like usual, they just didn’t feel normal to Clara. Thursday was the hardest because that had always been the day that she had received the letter from her grandmother. To think that Clara would never receive another letter was heartbreaking for both Amy and Clara.
On Friday, Clara didn’t have to go to school because the funeral was scheduled for that day. Amy woke her up, and they ate breakfast and then got ready to go. Clara decided to wear a silky blue dress that her grandmother had gotten her on her previous birthday. On the way, Clara barely heard the conversation between her mom and dad.
“Why are they having the funeral so soon?” Derek asked.
“She wanted everything to be simple. A simple wooden casket, only close family invited, in a small church, a short message, a few hymns . . . You know how she liked to boss people around.” Amy said with a smile. Derek smiled.
The moment they walked in the door, the pastor hurried toward them, carrying an envelope. “I was told this was for Clara,” he said when he reached them. Amy smiled and moved aside so he could see Clara, who had been hiding behind her mom. He bent down and handed the envelope to Clara. “This was the letter that your grandmother had started to write for you. She fell asleep before she finished it. The nurses knew you would appreciate having it.”
“Thank you,” Amy said, her voice thick with tears. “Thank you so much.” The pastor nodded and walked away. Derek guided both Clara and Amy to a pew close to the front to wait for the service to start. While she waited, Clara opened the letter.
I’m so glad I got to see you today. Although I was sure I would heal, I feel now that I am close to meeting God. I wish I could get to see you again, but at least I got to give you your gift. I know you will be sad when you hear that I’m gone, but you shouldn’t be. I am going to a better place, a place where you will one day see me again. Then we will sing and dance and laugh together, without a care in the world. So please, don’t be too upset. Enjoy your life. And always remember the two things I told you. Jesus loves you, and always be
The letter stopped abruptly. Clara showed it to Amy, and Amy read it and started crying again. Finally, she said, “Clara, make sure you never lose this. You’ll want something to remember her by.”
Clara swallowed hard and nodded. “I’ll keep it in the journal she gave me.”
During the funeral service, Clara only cried a little bit. She did as her grandmother had said. She remembered that Grandma was in a better place, and that one day, she would see her again.
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