The Pencil Box

The Pencil Box

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

The Pencil Box

I was deep in thought at my office preparing a lecture to be given that evening at a college across town when the phone rang. A woman I had never met said she was the mother of a seven-year-old boy and that she was dying. She said her therapist had advised her that discussing her pending death with her little boy would be too traumatic for him, but somehow that didn’t feel right to her.

Knowing that I worked with grieving children, she asked my advice. I told her that our heart is often smarter than our brain, and that I thought she knew what would be best for her son. I also invited her to attend the lecture that night since I was speaking about how children cope with death. She said she would be there.

I wondered later if I would recognize her at the lecture, but my question was answered when I saw a frail woman being half-carried into the room by two adults. I talked about the fact that children usually sense the truth long before they are told, and they often wait until they feel adults are ready to talk about it before sharing their concerns and questions. I said that children usually can handle truth better than denial, even though the denial is intended to protect them from pain. I said that respecting children meant including them in the family sadness, not shutting them out.

At the break, she hobbled to me and said through her tears, “I knew it in my heart. I just knew I should tell him.” She said that she would that night.

The next morning I received another phone call from her. I managed to hear the story through her choked voice. She said she awakened him when they got home the night before and quietly said, “Derek, I have something to tell you.”

He quickly interrupted her, saying, “Oh, Mommy, is it now that you are going to tell me that you are dying?”

She held him close, and they both sobbed while she said, “Yes.”

After a few minutes the little boy wanted down. He said he had something for her that he had been saving. In the back of one of his drawers was a dirty pencil box. Inside the box was a letter written in simple scrawl. It said, “Good-bye, Mom. I will always love you.”

How long he had been waiting to hear the truth, I don’t know. I do know that two days later Mom died. In her casket was placed a dirty pencil box and a letter.

Doris Sanford

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