From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

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 introduced herself and said that she was the mother of a seven-year-old and that she was dying. She said that her therapist had advised her that discussing her pending death with her son 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 that 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.

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

The next morning I received another phone call from her. She could hardly talk, but I managed to hear the story through her choked voice. She had 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 that 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 the young mother died. In her casket was placed a dirty pencil box and a letter.

Doris Sanford

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