Those of you who have been supporting and encouraging me know that I’ve been on a NaNoWriMo detour the last several weeks. I crossed the finish line with an official word count of 50,049 words, and it’s taken me this long to come up for air! Thanks to everyone who supported me through emails, blog comments, etc.! You are all wonderful! I even had two people tell about their own “letter stories” in their comments.

Several people have mentioned wanting to read about Anne’s adventures from this year’s novel, so I am sharing an excerpt below. It is longer than my typical posts; I hope you don’t mind. Your comments and feedback are always appreciated!

One last thing…I was advised to mention a reminder this text is subject to my copyright (see notice on home page.) Thank you!

Letters of a Lifetime”-A Raw & Rough Excerpt

Anne sighed deeply after the last person left the house.  Friends, family, and neighbors had gone out of their way to stop by after the funeral.  It had been an amazing show of love for her mom, and she appreciated it.  Still, it was mentally draining to cope with everyone’s sorrow and awkward comments while deep in grief herself.

A basket overflowing with cards sat precariously on the end table. Vases filled with colorful flowers were scattered throughout the living room. The kitchen table was piled high with desserts and the refrigerator was full of casseroles. Friends and family seemed to come out of the woodwork with food and flowers when someone died.

She walked slowly from the entry and made her way back to the living room, picking up paper plates along the way. She piled them together on the coffee table and sunk into the soft, flowery sofa. The memories of snuggling with her mother there on the sofa flooded Anne and the tears began to flow. She pulled the crocheted afghan over herself and nestled deep into the cushions as exhaustion consumed her entire body.

Before her mother had even received a diagnosis, the cancer had taken a firm hold. Its silence concealed the strength of the faceless invader. By the time the symptoms showed up, it had already spread throughout Ruth Milner’s body.  By the time they knew of the cancer, time was incredibly short.  The doctor appointments, paperwork and meetings with the hospice staff seemed to take all their time; there was no luxury of grieving in the moment. Anne wished she’d made the time to just sit with her mother and enjoy those last few days before the coma took Ruth to that middle space of not dead, but not really alive. Shock robbed Anne of the capacity to move beyond simply coping.  Anne felt nearly comatose herself now, her body void of energy and her mind empty of all but loss.

She noticed a copy of the memorial service program and picked it up. “In loving memory of Ruth Milner 1928-2007.” The wrinkled paper summed up her mother’s 81 years of life in a few tidy paragraphs. Anne felt angry and wanted to yell “But there’s more! We left out the part about how the neighborhood kids always stopped by for her famous chocolate chip cookies, how she always knew when I needed her to call me, or her unpredictable sense of humor!”

Exhaustion precluded any outburst, however.  So, instead, she stared at the lone photo beneath her mom’s name. It was taken on a family vacation to Europe in the seventies. Her mother had always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and her excitement was evident in the exuberant smile. It was one of Anne’s favorite pictures of Ruth.

The silence of the vacant house screamed at her and she longed for the whistle of the tea kettle, laughter from her mom’s favorite TV show, or even the noises from the hospice staff coming and going . Everything had happened so quickly and Anne was left reeling.  She just wanted to shut down.  It took too much energy to get up and find the remote or turn the TV on, so Anne just lay there, weeping and completely spent.

In her exhausted state, a comment slowly came to mind that her mom had made a few days before the coma stole her away.  “Please don’t be mad at me,” Ruth had implored.  Anne had reassured her that it was okay, she wouldn’t be mad. How could she ever be mad at her mom for dying? 

Anne’s  husband Derek and their 20-year old daughter Abby had been with her most of the last week.  Fortuitously, Abby had been on spring break from college and was able to spend it with her grandmother.  At Anne’s insistence, Derek and Abby drove home ahead of her.  She’d been grateful for their support, but needed the time alone to say goodbye to her mother in a private way after the chaos.

She’d planned to drive home that day, too –about a four-hour drive, but she really didn’t want to leave. The smell of this house would never be the same without her mother. No more baking, Pine-Sol Saturdays, or lavender laundry detergent to take her into that familiar, comfortable place that would always remind her of her mom.

Partly out of necessity, and partly to distract herself, she began cleaning.  She easily filled a large, black garbage bag with the paper plates, plastic cups and utensils, and dried up leftovers. She washed dishes and made notes of who they needed to be returned to. She divided the casseroles into smaller servings and put them in the freezer, neatly labeled and stacked. After vacuuming, Anne automatically grabbed her mother’s beloved Pine-Sol to mop. The scent made Anne tear up again thinking about her mom.

When the house was sparkling and there wasn’t anything left to do, Anne packed her things into the car. Her heart was too heavy, though, and she just couldn’t bring herself to leave yet. She went upstairs to her mother’s sparse closet and stood in the midst of her shoes and clothes, trying to take in the scent one more time. It would have to last a lifetime.

The trunk at the foot of the bed beckoned her and she opened the creaky wooden lid. A well-loved blanket lay carefully folded on top. Anne gently unfolded it to see the whole thing.  It was made of clothing remnants, and Anne remembered it was from the Depression. Under the blanket were some trinkets from their trip to Europe and two bundles of letters. They were yellowed with age and one bundle was considerably thicker than the other.

The thin bundle had postmarks from Nebraska, but the fat bundle didn’t have any postmarks at all. It was all very intriguing. Anne’s exhaustion faded momentarily and her curiosity energized her a bit. The afternoon twilight was quickly fading to dusk and she decided to gather them together and take them home to read.