Messages From Heaven

I uncovered this collection of notes during my lowest point of the pandemic, after leaving my career, not seeing family for months, and feeling sorry for myself. One quiet afternoon, I unearthed several boxes of old pictures and greeting cards. Among those treasures was a manila envelope holding letters and quotes my Grannie had written before she left this world on May 8, 1978. She reassured me before she passed not to worry about her, and she continues guiding me through unfortunate circumstances to make the best of things: 

  • “If God be with us, who can be against us?”
  • “Patience and fortitude conquer all things.”
  • “Plan ahead. It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.”
  • “It takes both rain and sunshine to make a rainbow.”
  • “When you’re at the end of your rope, make a knot and hang on!”

On the backside of one of the many pieces of paper, written sideways, is one word, “Leslie.” Were these pages meant for me to find on a day I needed them the most?

Letters from Grannie were lovingly handwritten in her distinctive cursive, using the edge of an envelope to keep her words lined up evenly on the paper. Sometimes she would forget to go back and complete the hanging loops on a “g” or “y.” I can almost hear her sweet Hispanic accent in a letter from San Diego dated July 9, 1973, when I was twelve. “On the fourth of July, we eat a nice dinner out at the patio and after supper the man of Bobbie and some friends lighted a beautiful fire work, just like the real McCoy.” She didn’t mention she was staying with my Uncle Bob’s family while undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer. And she didn’t say she was afraid, sad, or in pain although she must have been. 

It was hard being apart from Grannie that summer and wondering when, or if, she would come home. But her cheerful voice comforted me, every word emanating from the heart. In one quote, she imparts, “Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.” Growing up, my greatest fear was that one day I’d lose my Grannie. But this letter from her gave me peace:

“My dearest little Leslie. I was so happy to get your letters. I know you miss me as much as I miss you, but it won’t be long now, just three more weeks. Then I’ll never leave again I promise. I’ll be so glad when I’ll be able to see you dance, play cards, laugh of silly things. Gee, I sure miss my Leslie girl.”

 I didn’t realize then that Grannie’s inspiration and influence would follow me through life, giving me strength and solace, especially when I’m alone. These quotes are written on lined steno-paper that has started to yellow, “Any person with an active mind learn to live alone and like it. I learn to like it.” And, “People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.” My favorite, “I hope dear Lord, that you will forgive my anger and impatience with other people. Please help to restore my feelings of compassion and understanding. Amen.” I pray this every day when I hear negativity filling the air and try shutting it out. 

On an envelope buried under scraps of paper with quotes, jokes, and prayers are words from a pen running low on ink, “Things to put on your book.” Everyone said Grannie could write a book. Despite adversity in her life, she wouldn’t have written about her misfortunes. She would have written a lovely book of inspiring quotes or an anthology of short stories about history, family, and the hope of prosperity. 

The night before Grannie died, our private conversation is stamped into my memory. “I don’t want you to suffer,” she said, knowing my life would be forever changed. She was eighty-two, with the mind and valor of a young woman. So beautiful still. 

I saw her for the last time in a light pink nightgown and matching house coat, finally at peace, as if she had fallen asleep. I didn’t touch her because I wanted to remember how warm and comforting it was to sit beside her and lay my head on the softest shoulder I’d ever known. 

Grannie’s death came the summer before my senior year of high school. She’d been living in our home, still helping me with homework (she swore by the Britannica encyclopedia) and making my favorite meals—fideo, arroz con pollo, and carne con chili. We were as close as it gets, and I didn’t know how to live without her. 

Within a week’s time of her passing, a dream came to me. It was as vivid and clear as a scene on a motion picture screen. She and I trudged together through a large sea of water, an ocean of pastels, tumultuous waves whipping past us, washing over us, as we held tight to each other. The shore waited patiently far in the distance. Grannie’s message to me in those moments, “Thank you for staying by my side when I struggled with illness and fought my own death, even though you too were afraid.”

The scene came to life again as we reached the shore, our feet held steady by warm sand, soft and consoling. I smiled, thankful to have overcome our distress. Yet before any time passed, Grannie let go and walked on her own, without struggling. She moved with confidence, never looking back. I watched and waited, not taking my eyes off her, as she drifted away from me, across the sand, until I couldn’t see her anymore. She was saying, “Thank you for letting go when it was my time to walk away.”

I looked down at my feet, not knowing where to take them, or how to move forward. When I raised my head and looked into the distance, there she was. This time, Grannie faced me, her right arm linked with the man who stood beside her. This man, I’d seen in her wedding photos, but never knew. He died at the age of forty-two, when my mother was just a teenager, and Grannie never remarried. They stood, as they might have on their wedding day, dressed in white gowns with gold sashes, wearing bright, untroubled smiles. Beaming with peace and oneness. Their unspoken message was powerfully clear, “Thank you for looking up with wide eyes, and for opening your heart and mind. We are here together, and we’re safe. There’s no need for you to suffer.” Though not a word was spoken, I understood.

The dream ended there but remains as vivid now as it was that night. From the moment I awoke, I never suffered for my grannie. I miss her, sure. But I remember her with a content smile and a heart filled with gratitude. 

Now, a grandmother myself, I’ve become the lady who craves words, reading and writing passionately as Grannie did. And loving my own grandchildren, the way she loved me. Through her messages, I know our connection is everlasting and unbreakable. 

Once a message is received, a dream may end. But its meaning lives on forever.

(Published by Phoenix Oasis Press, May 2023.)

Author: Leslie J. Cox

Leslie Cox is a writer of creative non-fiction, focusing on personal essay and memoir. Her essay “My Favorite Chair” was a runner up in the WOW! Women on Writing Q1 2020 Creative Nonfiction Contest, and she published two essays in “Her Vase” in 2020. Her essay "Distracted" appeared in the Pure Slush anthology: "Love, Lifespan," and she has enjoyed contributing to guest blogs and book reviews. Prior to semi-retiring from health care administration in 2019, Leslie wrote and published trade articles and a guidebook for health care professionals for HCPro. When she’s not writing, Leslie tutors students K-12 in the craft of writing, and that fills her up!

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