Messages of Love

Messages of Love

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

Messages of Love

When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure.

~Author Unknown

I nspiration jumped off the page and into my heart when I read the story, “To Read When You’re Alone,” from the book Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul. I felt encouraged and motivated to write notes to my three children and husband after reading the story about a mother who put letters under her son’s pillow. Because of this story, writing little notes became a common practice in my family. I stashed notes under pillows, in backpacks, lunch bags, briefcases, and jacket pockets. It was fun to think of sneaky ways to hide my messages of love as I sent my family off to school or work.

I didn’t realize how valuable the note writing practice had become until years later, when my husband Ben, forty years old, was stricken with a rare liver disease and was told he would not survive without a liver transplant. Our children, Amanda, Benjamin, and Jordan, were ages twelve, ten, and eight at the time, too young to understand the full ramifications of his diagnosis. We chose not to tell them the seriousness of Ben’s condition to protect them as long as we could. They knew their dad was sick, but their worrying would not help their dad, and we wanted their world to stay as normal as possible, to continue with their sports, time with friends, and school activities.

Ben eventually had to take a leave from work to go on short-term disability, and eventually long-term disability, as he was spending more of his time sleeping. Frequently, Ben would find little notes hand scrawled in children’s writing hidden under his pillow: “I love you, Daddy. God bless you, Daddy, and have a fun day! You’re the best dad in the whole wide world!”

Many times Ben woke to find one or more stuffed animals beside him that one of the kids had brought him while he was sleeping, along with a note saying, “My friends will keep you company today. I love you, Daddy!”

Ben would often leave me notes under my pillow telling me how much he loved me, and what a great job I was doing with the kids. His words of encouragement kept me going, especially when his health deteriorated and he was in the hospital more than he was out. When he was put in the hospital full-time to wait for a liver transplant before Christmas, there was no more hiding the severity of his condition from the children.

On one of our visits we planned a family movie night. We brought microwave popcorn and we piled onto Ben’s hospital bed with him to watch the movie. It was great fun. “Now you kids get your homework done and listen to your mother.” Ben instructed all three kids from his hospital bed before we gave him hugs goodbye.

“We will, Daddy,” all three said in unison.

“God bless you and I love you,” Ben said, drawing a cross on their foreheads with his thumb before giving each one a goodnight hug.

“Oh, I have one more thing for you, Daddy,” Benjamin said, taking a folded envelope from his coat pocket. Handwritten on the outside it said, “To Dad. Open when we leave.” “Something for you to keep under your pillow.”

“Well thank you, Benjamin. I will keep it in a special spot,” Ben said, holding the letter to his chest.

“God bless and I love you too,” I said, bending over to draw a cross on Ben’s forehead, as he did the same for me, followed by a warm embrace in his arms. I longed to climb up beside him to stay and not let go, but I had to get the kids home to bed. They had school the next day, and I had work.

Arriving home late from our visit to the hospital, I rushed through our bedtime routine, tucked the kids into bed, and said bedtime prayers with each of them. Exhausted, I fell into my own bed and began to sob. I cried out, “Dear Lord, what can I do to hold my family together? What can I do to bring encouragement, comfort, and peace to Ben? Please God, I need your help.”

I slipped my hand under my pillow and was surprised to bump into something. It was a little plastic flower and a note from my younger son Jordan: “Dear Mom, I know you’re tired. Just relax and don’t fold all the laundry on your bed. I will help you fold it tomorrow. Go to sleep and rest. I love you. Love, Jordan.”

The next morning I woke with an important plan. I needed to take Ben some stationery and envelopes for him to write a letter to each of the kids. In my heart I knew he would not be coming home for Christmas, as much as I didn’t want to accept the reality.

Christmas Eve, with Ben still in the hospital, I carefully placed the bright red envelopes containing Ben’s letters to each of us on our Christmas tree. Of all the gifts given and exchanged that year, the letters from Ben were the favorites for all of us.

Ben lost his battle and passed away that January. Our world had been ripped apart. For all three of my children, the letter they received from their dad that Christmas is among their most prized possessions. And I have a treasure box with letters and note cards that Ben left under my pillow.

One night a few months after Ben passed away, as I was tucking Jordan into bed, I saw the familiar corner of a red envelope peeking out from underneath his pillow. It was the letter from his dad. It warmed my heart to see Ben’s letter there still helping Jordan.

All three kids are grown now, but they still treasure the letter from their dad, with its special message of love for each of them. For me, I still slip my hand under my pillow at night sometimes and remember the sweet memories of finding my own special messages of love under my pillow handwritten from Ben.

~Patricia Gallegos

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