A letter from her beloved uncle John, killed in a 2013 car accident, ended with “I’m undoubtedly standing nearby laughing tremendously,” which brought a river of tears to Abby’s eyes.
The present was wrapped on her first birthday, when her mother asked partygoers to bring letters and mementos for Abby to open on her 18th birthday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“We were thinking that we didn’t really need, or want, a bunch of presents for a 1-year-old who wouldn’t appreciate them or even know what they were,” said Abby’s mom, Susie.
So the parents built a box of memories instead.
“We never even looked or opened the letters when we received them in 1999. They weren’t ours to open, so it was easy to keep it a secret. We just sealed each letter in a plastic baggie and put the antique box on a shelf so that it looked like a decoration in our home,” Susie said.
The mother videotaped her daughter going through her gift, reading letters and often crying as she saw the handwriting of those departed.
“She had to set the letter from her grandpa (papa to her) down and come back to it later, it was so emotional for her. It was emotional for my husband and I, too,” said Susie.
There were seven letters from loved ones who had passed on.
Abby says those missives are “the definition of priceless.”
Reading them, she said, was like “getting to have another conversation with these people I thought I was never going to be able to speak to again.”
A line in her grandfather’s letter was especially prescient.
“I may not be here on Earth with you when you are 18, but I will always be with you spiritually … I love you.”
He died five years ago.
Abby’s younger sister, Holland, is 14. She, too, has a box waiting for her, said Susie.