Her Last Wish
Sitting at my desk reviewing legal briefs for tomorrow's trial. I was startled by my judicial assistant. She raced in, waving a small package.
"Judge Twomey, a woman dropped this package at the front desk for you."
"Kathy, is everything alright?"
"Sure Judge Twomey, but you need to look at the package."
She handed it over to me. The mystery package was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. What caught my eye was they addressed it to me in blue crayon and in handwriting, like a six-year-old, and there was no return address. Kathy asked me if she should call security and have them open it. I told her no, but she might want to leave before I opened it.
I had never seen Kathy move so fast.
I knew I had work to do, but curiosity made me open the mystery package. I untied the blue ribbon and carefully tore apart the brown paper. Inside was a small white box about the size of two packs of cigarettes stacked on top of the other. Taking the top off, I saw tissue paper. Pulling the tissue out, I saw a folded piece of writing paper. Underneath it was a small black-and-white photo of a young girl and boy. The boy was me and the girl was my old neighbor. I looked on the back and written in ink was "Brendan and Mary Beth--1960" I unfolded the paper and read the note. It was from Mary Beth. She was in Boston for work and wanted to get together for lunch. Looking at the note, she had written her cell phone number on it. I got up from my desk and walked to my office door. I told Kathleen to hold all my calls. I did not want to be bothered by anyone. I went back to my desk and sat back in my chair. I turned to look out the window. My mind drifted back to my childhood in Michigan.
There was Mary Beth and I playing catch. We were inseparable during those early years. She was my best friend. When we reached high school, our feelings for each grew. We were no longer just friends. Mary Beth and I started dating. Life was going great for us. We both planned on going to Michigan State University. Then, after graduation, my father changed everything for us. He took a job with a law firm in Boston. I ended up attending Boston University. Mary Beth and I kept in touch for a while, but slowly it became less and less. I thought of her occasionally, wondering how she was doing.
In 1976, I graduated from Boston University. Next was Harvard Law School. It was at Harvard. I met and fell in love with the woman I was meant to spend my life with Kathleen Shanahan. She also was a law student. We married when we both finished law school. My father was able to get us into his law firm. Kathleen's career was cut short by the births of our three children; Hannah, Ciara, and Sean.
Our home was an old colonial just outside of Boston. I became a very successful attorney. The years seemed to fly by. The last I heard of Mary Beth was from friends back in Detroit. She had married an executive with Ford. They lived in West Bloomfield, and like us, had three children.
In the October 2015, I was selected to serve as a judge for the United States District in Boston. That joy quickly faded that January. Kathleen was diagnosed with breast cancer. She spent the next five months going through chemotherapy hell. The kids and I did everything we could to care for and make her happy. Despite the unbearable pain. Kathleen would tease us about our sad faces. Her favorite saying to all of us was "Look you, sourpusses, I am not going anywhere. Somebody has to keep an eye on you."
We watched as she slowly melted away. The woman that ran marathons had turned into a tiny little thing lying in a hospital bed. It was difficult watching Kathleen as she faded from our lives. How Kathleen kept her loving spirit alive despite the pain. Could only be described as the love for life she had in her.
It was June ninth, my father's birthday. We planned to celebrate it with Kathleen in her hospital room. I was in my office when Kathy rushed in. "Judge, they need you at the hospital, it's Kathleen." I was out the door and on the way in seconds.
As I entered Kathleen's room, I knelt next to her bed, sobbing. Then I heard Kathleen's voice. "For God's sake Brendan, I am not dead." That was my Kathleen. I laughed and hugged her frail body. Our children arrived not long after me. We held her hands and told stories of our goofy family. Kathleen did her best to smile. Just before she left us, barely able to speak, she spoke into my ear. "Dear, there is a box in my closet for you and the kids." Moments later, with me holding her hand, my Kathleen slipped away from us.
With the funeral, all thoughts of the box were forgotten. It was not until October of that year that my daughter, Hannah, convinced me to donate Kathleen's clothes to charity. Letting go of her clothes was one of the hardest things for me to do. I would walk into her closet just to smell the perfumes she wore that were on her dresses.
That day, everyone was there to help. I was of no use to them. I just cried as the girls brought out her clothes. Every dress reminded me of how beautiful she was. I often told Kathleen she was too beautiful to be married to a guy like me.
As I sat in the chair holding a framed picture of the two of us taken at our wedding. Ciara came up to me, holding a small box in her hands. "Dad, I found this in mom's closet on the top shelf. What do you think it is?"
I looked at the box wrapped in brown paper. Then I remembered what Kathleen told me the night she passed away. I told the kids it was from mom. I took the package to our living room and sat in my chair. Kathleen had written on top. "For my family, love mom." The kids all stood around me as I pulled the paper off and opened the box. Inside, held together with a pink ribbon, were four white business-size envelopes. I pulled the ribbon off and looked at each envelope. The first addressed to me, the next three to our children.
I gave each one theirs and said, "I think we should open these by ourselves." As I stood up, my legs felt weak, and I felt myself shuddering. I walked into our bedroom and sat in Kathleen's chair. Looking at her picture on the nightstand. I spoke softly to her.