Updated: Aug 23, 2021
Sitting at my desk reviewing legal briefs for tomorrow's trial. I was startled by my judicial assistant. She knocked on my door and came inside. “Judge Twomey this package was dropped 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 it was addressed 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 he might want to leave before I open 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. I pulled the top off and pulled and pulled a piece of tissue apart. Inside was a folded piece of writing paper and underneath it was a 3”x5” black and white photograph of a little 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. I looked at her cell phone number and wondered if I should call her.
Mary Beth and I grew up together back in Michigan. We were inseparable during those early years. She was my best friend. When we reached high school, we both started to thinking of each other as more than friends and started dating. Life was going great for us. Then after graduation, my father 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 and ended up going to Harvard Law School. It was at Harvard, I met and fell in love with the woman I was truly meant to spend my life with, Kathleen Shannahan, a fellow law student. We married when we both finished law school. My father was able to get us both into his law firm. Kathleen’s career was cut short by the births of our three children; Hannah, Ciara, and Sean.
We had a nice home 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 was married to an executive with Ford. They lived in West Bloomfield and like us had three children.
In the fall of 2015, I was selected to serve as a judge for the United States District in Boston. My 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. Kathleen was a strong woman and despite the unbearable pain, 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 from the strong woman she had been, into a tiny person lying in a hospital bed. I tried so hard not to cry as I sat next to her reading the hundreds of get-well cards she received from our families, friends, co-workers, and our church. Kathleen despite the pain, would smile at me and squeeze my hand.
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 when I heard Kathleen’s voice. “For God’s sake Brendan, I am not dead.” That was Kathleen. I laughed and hugged her frail body. O
ur 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 and told me about a box she had left for me and our children. Moments later with me holding her hand, my Kathleen slipped away from us.
With the funeral, all thoughts of the box left me. It was not until October of that year that my daughter, Hannah was able to convince me to donate Kathleen’s clothes to charity. Letting go of her clothes was one of the hardest things for me to do. I used to walk in her closet just to smell the perfumes she wore that were on her dresses.
The day came and 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 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?”
This mystery box was wrapped in brown paper and written on top in Kathleen’s handwriting was “For my family.” I took the package to our living room and sat in my chair. 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 nervously shaking. I walked into our bedroom and sat in Kathleen's chair. I looked at her picture on the nightstand.
“Kathleen, I should have known that you would do something like this. You were always the thinker and planner of this family. I am so sorry dear it has taken this long to find your box. The night
of your passing, I was not thinking right.”
As I spoke a ray of warm sunlight shown through the window, lighting me up in its glow. It was as if Kathleen was telling me it was okay.
I gently tore the envelope open and unfolded the paper inside.
I would not be me if I did not leave something for you. Before, I told you about my breast cancer. I had already seen an oncologist. I kept the seriousness of her diagnosis from you and the kids. I did not want you to worry. I asked her not to tell you my odds of surviving were extremely low. But, I am a fighter and I will do whatever it takes to survive.
As I read her words, tears began to fall on the paper. I continued to read.
Since we do not know when our time comes. I decided to say my goodbyes in these letters. I wrote you
rs last, because of all of the letters, yours will be the hardest for me to write.
How do I say goodbye to the only man I ever loved.
The man I hoped to grow old with.
The man who would hold my hand, as we completed life’s journey.
You are my only love and leaving you alone does not seem fair.
So, I am asking you to let me go and live your life.
Don’t hold onto
me, my time will have come.
When the time is right, I want you to find someone to spend your remaining days with. I know you would want the very same for me. That is why we made such a loving couple.
I could barely read her words anymore the tears were flowing down my cheeks like two rivers. I moved the letter away as the ink started to run on the paper.
When you find that person you will know, because I will ask God to shine his brightest light on the both of you.
I sat there sobbing in my chair tightly hold her letter. I pulled it to my face to just get a smell of her from the letter. As I stood up our kids all with red eyes from crying came into the room and knelt around me. Kathleen’s letters to each were filled with love and hopes for each of them.
All three letters had the same thing written at the bottom. “Please take good care of your father, you know he cannot cook, wash clothes, clean, pretty much he is helpless. Lol Mom”
We all started laughing. They all knew their mother was right. The last lines were hard for them to read.
“I want each of you to get your father out of the house and see that he starts living his new life. If he meets someone and they fall in love, please promise me that you will accept her into our family. That is what I want from each of you.”
Tears were flowing amongst all of us when Kathleen's picture on the nightstand fell over. In that instant, I felt as if Kathleen was trying to tell us she was there. stood up and told the kids. “It’s time we do what your mother told us to do. Since, I cannot cook, let’s go out for dinner as a family.
Me, I went into my closet and got my clothes to wear. As soon as I was dressed I went back and sat in Kathleen’s chair. I lifted her picture up and spoke to her.
“There will never be another you in this world, and, I will never love another as I do you. I know what you want me to do. I will because I love you. Just remember my heart will never belong to another.”
I kissed her picture and sat it down. I joined our kids and we left to go out and eat. Dinner that night was the first since Kathleen’s passing free of sadness, all thanks to the most loving wife, mother, and grandmother in the world.
My office phone rang, bringing me out of my thoughts. When I answered it was Mary Beth. We spoke for over an hour about our days back in Michigan. I told her about Kathleen and she told me her husband had died ten years before, leaving her to raise their children on he
r own. We decided to meet for dinner that night.
When I arrived at the restaurant, I saw her sitting at a corner booth. It looked like she had not aged. When I walked up to her, she smiled. “Brendan, you look the same as the last time we were together.”
Dinner lasted until the restaurant closed. Mary Beth and I, two lonely people, found each other again. It would not be long before we married. On our wedding day, a bright ray of light shined through the church stain glass window down on Mary Beth and me. I knew Kathleen was smiling and happy for both of us.