Shirley McInnis struggled to her feet after another sleepless night. A grey dawn filled the bedroom. Brushing her matted hair out of her eyes, she let her feet search the floor for well-worn slippers.
It had been three days since she and a small group of friends had gathered under a wet November sky to say their goodbyes to John William McInnis. Jack, as his friends called him, had run the town’s only hardware store for as long as anyone could remember.
The sickness that took him came without warning and did its deadly work swiftly, two months from beginning to end.
Shirley pressed her palms hard into the mattress, pushed her aching body upright, and started toward the kitchen. She glanced back at the unmade bed, pausing for a moment to contemplate a return to the comfort of the rumpled sheets.
The kitchen, normally warm and inviting, now seemed strange and inhospitable. Dirty dishes filled the sink to overflowing and a casserole brought by a thoughtful neighbour sat half eaten on a small wooden table.
Now almost robotically she began to prepare a pot of coffee. On this gloomy morning, coffee now seemed like the only constant in her life. The routine of that first brew and the inviting smell of those fresh Columbian beans provided a familiar sense of comfort. She and Jack had for years used the morning coffee ritual as a chance to talk a little politics, catch up on local gossip, and plan their day.
What she would give for just one more morning, one more stupid joke, one more wink as Jack pulled on his Yankees ball cap and headed out to the store. Now tears welled up as memories that should bring joy only brought emptiness and ache.
Those morning chats always started and ended at the kitchen table and always with a smile and a kiss. A place once so inviting and warm now seemed foreign and cold.
Shirley made her way to the living room where more memories, more tears awaited. It was in this room Jack would flop down in his favourite chair, pull out his ukulele and sing, often off key, his unique versions of “Has anyone seen my gal” and “Five foot two eyes of blue.” What she would give to hear that voice just one more time.
It was also in this room that she and Jack, both sobbing, embraced as he gave her the news of his impending death. Of course, they would fight it, they wouldn’t give up. They had other plans, too much to do. It wasn’t fair.
She placed her cup on a table Jack had made and fell back into the couch. As it had yesterday and the day before, a small package wrapped in brown paper sat unopened on the corner of the table.
It had literally come from the sky. Shirley had gone out to get the morning paper and the mail. It was the whirring sound that first grabbed her attention. A kind of electric humming like nothing she had heard before. She first saw the small craft as it came over the spruce trees and flew towards her front door. If settled for a moment a couple of feet off the ground and slowly descended, carefully releasing the package from grips underneath before quickly rising again and disappearing back beyond the trees.
The package had no markings other than the printed words, “Attention Shirley McInnis”. She had picked it up, given it a shake, and turned it over several times in her hands. It gave her an uneasy feeling. What was it, where had it come from, why was it here?
Was it some kind of advertising gimmick? This was not the time or place for that. She had taken it and placed it on the table hoping someone would give her more information. Until then it would just have to wait.
That night, like the nights before, sleep when it came was brief and left Shirley even more exhausted. But unlike the night before she could not get her mind off that small brown package. Dammit, she thought, as she tossed the covers off and made her way to the darkened living room. Clicking on the table lamp, she scooped up the package, again turning it in her hands before ripping off the brown wrapping. Inside was a small unfinished wooden box. She recognized it the moment she saw it. Jack had made it, one of the first things he ever made when he started doing his wood working. But now it had a hand chiselled heart on it. Shirley laughed when she saw it. How corny but how typically Jack. She opened the box to find a single folded sheet of paper. She recognized the writing immediately and spoke the words out loud.
“Sorry honey, no flapping angel wings. I thought maybe the drone might be a pretty good substitute. I figured you might be feeling a little blue and that’s okay but not forever. It would mean so much to me if you simply stored my memory in your heart and got on with enjoying life.
As I moved closer to the end of my life adventure, my time with you and what we meant to each other made living meaningful. In the end I did not welcome it but I did not mourn death.
Some say the only certainty in life is death and taxes. But that is not entirely true. While the inevitability of death is a certainty, death itself is so very uncertain. There are always the questions of when and how. And while those matters are perplexing, a more profound question is whether death is the end, a step into the darkness of eternity, or is it something else, the beginning of a different kind of journey untethered by body and mind.
I want you to continue to enjoy everything about life. You made my every day mean something. You showed me love, hope, empathy and kindness. The world needs more of that.
Maybe my time on earth was just one brief blast of energy in a timeless universe. If that’s it, that’s okay. If I’m to be remembered I’d rather it be for my strengths and my weaknesses, for the laughter and tears, and for my never-ending love for you.
Always yours, Jack.”