...a gentle tale on a difficult subject, for parents and children, and for anyone who has experienced a loss.
CHRISTINE'S MAGIC BOX
by Jim Willis
Copyright 1990 & 2001, all rights reserved
[Dedicated to Christine Michel]
This is a story for the child in all of us. At an early age, we understand that life has a beginning, but no matter how old and wise we grow it is never easy to accept that life has an end. What constitutes living is not how far apart those two are, it is what filled those days in between.
Child psychologists tell us that children as young as five years can understand a concept of death, and if they are themselves seriously ill, at an even younger age. Too often this is a topic we avoid discussing with children. I remember when I was 12 and lost my maternal grandmother unexpectedly - I was lost, confused, and my young emotions struggled to accept her death. The adults around me shielded me as much as possible from the grieving process, but I don't think that helped me. When my wife and I lost all four or our parents over these past four years, again I grappled with those emotions and for understanding. "Christine's Magic Box" is a gentle story which you may choose to read to your child as a starting point for a discussion about a difficult topic. I have purposely avoided all religious references so as to not contradict your own faith and beliefs, which I believe will be compatible with this very human story.
There is no new wisdom in these pages, only a retelling and a reminder. For this I thank my friend Christine, who taught me something about life, about living, and about dying. She has my undying appreciation and remembrance.
I hope that we will all fill our "magic boxes" to the fullest.
From the moment Miss Wells walked into the classroom, Christine suspected something was wrong. Miss Wells looked rather sad and serious, and even perhaps as if she'd been crying.
"Good morning, children," Miss Wells began.
"Good morning, Miss Wells," the class answered routinely.
"Children, I'm afraid that I have some sad news this morning," Miss Wells said, managing a weak smile. "Our friend Jennifer will not be returning to school. She misses us very much and we miss her, and she wanted me to tell you that she like the cards we've made for her, and especially the coloring book we made. Her mother and father also wanted me to thank you and they want to visit us some day to thank you in person."
Miss Wells walked a bit up the row of desks and stopped at Jennifer's empty desk.
"You know that Jennifer has been very sick and now her doctor has said that she must not return to school, and that she must rest in bed."
"Will Jennifer die, Miss Wells?" asked Roberta.
Miss Wells looked toward the ceiling and swallowed hard.
"I don't know," she answered thoughtfully.
But Christine thought that Miss Wells did know and was only trying to be nice. Christine looked down at her desk.
"Children, I am very sorry to have to start our morning on such a sad note. I promised Jennifer that I would tell you why she has been away so long, and to tell you how much fun she had with us and how much she learned."
Christine could believe that. She had known Jennifer since the first grade and Jennifer had always been one of the smartest, prettiest and nicest girls in the school.
She wished now that she could have been a closer friend of Jennifer's or had had the chance to know her better. Christine had been too busy. She always hurried home after school so that she could finish her homework and then help her mother and grandmother. Her father had died when Christine was a baby and now she was filling in for him.
Her thoughts were interrupted by Miss Wells.
"Children, I must confess, I really don't know how I should explain to you. Jennifer doesn't want us to be sad and she wants us to understand. She worries about us and her family. Well, we are going to have to be very brave - brave like Jennifer."
Christine watched Miss Wells's bottom lip quiver and somebody a few seats away sniffled.
"There is a very bad sickness that you probably have heard of. It is a disease and it has many different kinds. We call all of them 'cancer,' and Jennifer has cancer."
"But Miss Wells," James blurted out without raising his hand, "don't only old people get cancer? My grandfather had it and he died last year. He was old though."
"Yes, old people often get cancer, but so do people my age (and Christine waited for her to say her age, but she did not), and sometimes very young people get cancer. Sometimes even babies.
"That is why your parents and teachers, and the school nurse want you to see a doctor when you don't feel well. And that is why the doctor asks you questions, and feels, and asks you if things hurt, or sometimes the doctors will make a test. There are excellent chances that you can be healthy again with the doctor's help, but sometimes you have to do something that you don't like very much..."
"Like drinking something that tastes awful!" James blurted out again.
"Exactly. Unfortunately, sometimes the doctors can't help us as much as they'd like to."
Christine couldn't imagine why. She thought her own doctor must know everything, because each time Christine got sick, her doctor helped to make her better. Christine's doctor was an Indian, and maybe she knew some special medicine that could make Jennifer better. (Christine didn't understand that her doctor was another kind of Indian from New Delhi, and that a lot of doctors had already tried very hard to make Jennifer get well.)
"Children, I am not a doctor and I can't explain to you very much about cancer or why Jennifer has gotten so sick. I think it would be a good idea if you would talk to your mothers and fathers this evening about Jennifer. I think they would like to help you to understand. We all have a sadness about Jennifer being sick that we need to talk about, especially with our families.
"I'd also like to ask that your parents contact me if they have any questions," Miss Wells added. "I think we may be able to help one another, and perhaps some of your parents would like to help Jennifer's parents. Perhaps we could even ask the school nurse, or a doctor, to come talk to our class."
Most of the children brightened at the suggestion, because anytime someone came to talk to the class the children usually had no homework that evening.
"We will have more to talk about later. We'll continue sending Jennifer cards and surprises to show her that we love her. For now though, please open your books to page 80."
Christine walked home from school more quickly than usual, forgetting even to sneak a peek at her baby birds in their nest near the end of the path. She burst in the kitchen door and plopped her books on the table, which brought a "Shhh, Chrissie, your grandmother is taking a nap," from her mother.
Her mother slowly stirred the saucepan on the stove as Christine told her about her day at school, being especially careful to remember everything Miss Wells had said.
"Chrissie, I'm very sorry, for Jennifer and for her parents. I'd heard recently that Jennifer was very sick. I think maybe we should have talked about this sooner. I'm going to call Miss Wells tomorrow and thank her for talking to you and the other children. I think some other parents will call her as well."
(Many parents did call Miss Wells, but some said that she had scared the children and that she should not talk about such things to a class of nine-year-olds.)
"Mom, why does Jennifer have to die?" Christine asked. "It's not fair - she's just my age!"
"I wish I could tell you," her mother said, wiping her hands on a dishtowel and sitting down at the table. "Come here," she said, pulling Christine into a hug and smoothing her hair.
"You see, Chrissie, we all have to die because it is the end of the circle. Being born is the beginning of the circle and dying is the end. Some people, like Jennifer, get very sick or have an accident, like your father, and the circle finishes faster than we think it should. One day your father was here, and the next day he wasn't.
"We can only accept that and do the best we can. It is what he wanted for us. He didn't want to leave us and we didn't want him to ever leave, but we couldn't change it. We've had to live with it as best we could, and to be the best we could be."
Christine was very quiet.
"Life should be a lot of fun, Chrissie, especially when one is your age. But as wonderful as life can be, there are some hard things, some rough spots. Some things hurt very much, things a kiss cannot make all better. It is never easy to get through the bad times - they hurt. As we grow up, we learn to accept things better, to make some good of everything.
"You don't understand all of this now, but you'll understand more later. Maybe I don't understand as much as I should. As much as we'd like to, we cannot stop what is happening to Jennifer, but we can show her and her family that we care, and show them that we'd like to help."
"Like making her cards?" Christine asked.
"Of course. And I think her mother is very busy and very sad. I'm sure she doesn't always feel like cooking, so I'm going to cook things and take them to her.
"Now, I'm going to finish our dinner," Christine's mother said, dabbing the dishtowel to her eye. "I'd like you to do your homework and after dinner why don't you talk to your grandmother about Jennifer? Your grandmother is very wise and when I was a little girl she always gave me very good answers to my questions. Still does!"
Christine nodded. She loved talking to her grandmother, and she only half minded doing homework.
"One more thing, Chrissie. I know it is going to be hard for everyone who loves Jennifer, hardest of all for her mother and father. It is so hard to watch someone you love be sick, but it is a very special time, because we have a chance to show Jennifer how important she is to us."
Even though her mother's back was turned, Christine saw the dishtowel go up to her mother's cheek.
"We didn't have a chance to tell your father how much we loved him, or needed him, or would miss him. I hope he knows," and she began to cry.
"Don't cry, Mommy," Christine rushed to her mother. "Daddy knows! I tell him every night before I go to sleep."
"I do, too," her mother said and hugged her back. "It's okay to cry - if you are sad or hurt, or you miss somebody very much, it's good to cry."
Both Christine and her mother were unusually quiet during dinner, but her grandmother didn't seem to notice. She was a bit hard of hearing and she seemed to be lost in her own thoughts.
After the supper dishes were washed by her mother, dried by her grandmother, and stacked by Christine, who expertly dragged a kitchen chair this way and that so that she could reach the cupboards, Christine followed her grandmother back to her bedroom.
She was fascinated by "Oma's" room - which is what she called her grandmother, "Oma" meaning grandmother in German, and her grandmother having come from Germany many years ago. Christine sometimes sat with her grandmother after dinner, admiring the lace-curtained window or the pastel-colored mints in the cut-glass dish next to Oma's chair. Most of all she loved listening to Oma's stories about when she was a girl and had her own pony and cart!
Christine told Oma about Jennifer and everything Miss Wells had said. Oma listened quietly, only asking once for Christine to repeat something.
"Oma, are you going to die?" Christine asked suddenly.
"Yes, child, I surely will. I've lived a long time and one day I'll be too old to live."
"But why, Oma? Why can't everybody keep living? Why do people have to die, or get sick, especially nice people like you and Jennifer, and Daddy?"
"Hmmm," Oma sighed and thought for a moment.
"Chrissie, we are like boxes. Each of us, the outer part, is a box. These boxes come in all sizes and shapes, and all colors. Some of them are very beautiful boxes. Some of them are brown cardboard. Some of them are tin and painted to look like real gold - some of them are real gold. But they are only boxes. No matter how big the box, or how pretty it is, or how strong, the only thing that is important is what is in the box.
"These boxes get moved around, they get wet, they have heavy things sat upon them, they get torn and worn out. They get dented, they get punctured, and sometimes a part of their contents leak out, but - usually for a long time - they are still a box. There purpose is to protect and move around what is inside them."
"But, Oma, if the boxes get hurt, won't the things inside get hurt, too?"
"Usually not. Most of the things in the boxes are things that cannot be hurt. They are things that have no shape, so you can't chip them, or crack them, or break them.
"Inside the boxes are the most beautiful things! - all snuggled together and glowing and jingling, and it is they and never the box that has worth. We simply keep our boxes polished out of respect for what's in them. Sometimes we must even try very hard to not see the box and to only see what is inside."
"What happens when the box breaks, or gets old and falls apart, Oma?"
"Then, first of all, most us miss the box, because it was always around before and now it's not. Instead of remembering the things in the box and seeing them, we miss the box. That is when we have to remind ourselves that the important things that were in the box stay behind. They are our treasures and we must be thankful for however long we've had them and for however long we can hold onto them. The box was only what brought the treasures to us, and those treasures stay with us, box or not!"
"Won't we forget about what's in the box when we can't see the box anymore? What's in my box, Oma?"
"Chrissie, so many questions! Why, you know better than anyone about what is in your box. Think! Be quiet for a moment, sit still and think. Feel. Listen. What is in your box?"
Christine did as Oma suggested. She sat and listened, and sat and felt. She wrinkled her brow and felt some more, way down deep in herself. She scrunched up her nose and then she smiled.
"There!" said Oma with a pleased nod of her head. "Now, what's in your box?"
"Such a lot of things, Oma. Good things. Maybe a bad thing or two, but many, many good things!"
She and her grandmother talked a long time about the kinds of things that can be in boxes, with Oma occasionally exclaiming "Yes!" until Christine's mother stood in the doorway for a moment and then silently backed away. She smiled at the sight of an old woman and a little girl understanding one another perfectly.
"A curious thing about these boxes," Oma continued, " is that you can never fill them too full. They'll always hold more. But some boxes, I'm sorry to say, are rather empty. Some people do not care enough about filling their box. You must always be careful about what you put in your box. Some people fill them with the wrong things - too much of one thing, or not enough of another, one's just as bad as the other. You must be very clever and know the difference between a real treasure and something that only looks like a treasure."
Then Oma stood up with a clap of her hands and motioned to Christine.
"Come here, child, help me."
She walked toward the open closet door and bent to pull out a stool. She stood and rested a moment, and using Christine's shoulder for support, she stepped up and rummaged around on the top shelf.
"Ah!" she exclaimed as she stepped down with a package.
"This is for you," she said, unwrapping the tissue paper from around a beautiful metal box, locked with a small gold lock. "It's nearly as old as I am."
The box sparkled in the light of the lamp, all red and cold with a stamped design around its edges, and a painting of a castle, or maybe a cathedral - Christine wasn't sure which - on its lid, and tiny, handpainted people in fine clothes, standing around horsedrawn carriages. It looked like a fairytale box - like a magic box!
"It's beautiful, Oma! What's in it?"
"Probably nothing, as far as I remember. At least nothing that could break," she said with a wink. "I lost the key a long time ago. I'd like you to have this box as a reminder of what we talked about. I hope you will keep it to remind you that it isn't the box, what the box looks like, or what country it is from, or what color it is, or even if the box is there or gone - it is always only what was in the box. They are our treasures."
"Thank you, Oma," Christine said, taking the box and kissing her grandmother. "I will always remember," and she turned to leave Oma's room.
"Oma," she said, pausing at the doorway. "I know what is in your box."
"Do you, Christine? Well, good. It would make me happy if you'd remember when the box is gone."
"I will, Oma. I love you. Good night."
Christine carried the box to school with her the next day. Each time someone asked her what was in it, she just smiled and said "Everything."
Some of the children were a little jealous over the pretty box, not even knowing or caring what was in it. Many of the children thought that because the box was beautiful it must contain spectacular things. Some children began to make fun of the box, because they thought it looked so strange to carry around a box such as this.
"I know," one boy told Christine, "you only have your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in that old box!"
Christine just smiled and thought about what her grandmother had said. She spent the day trying not to see the other "boxes" around her, but to see what was in them. She was quiet, and listened, and felt. Then she had a wonderful idea.
"I think that's a wonderful idea," her mother said after Christine told her. "I'm sure Jennifer would enjoy a visit from you, but I must call her mother first and we'll see if Jennifer is feeling up to having a visitor. And I would like to take a cake to her mother."
But Christine was already on her way to Oma's room to ask her a very important question.
Christine was glad when her mother told her that she had phoned Jennifer's mother, who had said that Jennifer would like to see Christine on Saturday afternoon. Her mother explained that they must only stay a short time, because Jennifer tired very easily and had to sleep much of the time.
Christine nodded her head. She felt a little afraid down deep in the bottom of her stomach. Her mother told her that Jennifer had lost most of her hair because of the medicine that the doctors gave her, and that Christine must be very brave and not make Jennifer uncomfortable by acting surprised.
"Someone's always telling me to be brave," Christine thought, "but it doesn't seem to get any easier."
She spent the next two days practicing being brave, until Saturday came. She was very quiet on the drive to Jennifer's house, and she sat clutching a bag in her lap.
"What's in the bag, Chrissie?" her mother asked.
"Something for Jennifer," Christine answered, looking out the side window.
Her mother wanted to ask another question, but she knew that sometimes mothers must be quiet, too.
"How nice to see you both," Jennifer's mother said as she opened the door. She accepted the cake with a grateful smile. "Christine, your mother and I are going to have a nice visit in the living room, but first I'll take you back to Jennifer's room. She's more comfortable there."
Jennifer was tucked into an overstuffed chair next to the bedroom window when Christine and their mothers walked in. She smiled.
"We're glad you and your mother could..." but then she began to cough hard and her mother rushed over, patted her on the back and plumped up the pillows behind her.
Christine wore a worried look and glanced up at her own mother for reassurance. Her mother nodded an 'it's okay,' but she looked very serious.
"We'll leave the two of you alone for awhile," Jennifer's mother said after Jennifer had stopped coughing, and she led Christine's mother to the hall.
It was awhile before either Jennifer or Christine spoke. Christine smiled and Jennifer smiled, and then both of them looked out the window.
"I haven't seen you in a long time," Jennifer said. "How is everyone at school?"
"Okay," Christine answered. "We're making a globe of the world out of paper mache that's taller than me! Miss Wells told us that she had been to visit you, and we're making you something special in art class, but I can't tell you what it is 'cause it's a surprise." Then she wondered if she had already spoiled the surprise and she looked down at her feet.
"I don't look like I used to," Jennifer said. "Sometimes it makes people feel sad, because they remember me before I got sick, when I had long hair. The medicine made me lose my hair, but it's growing back some."
Christine looked up at Jennifer, who looked so small tucked into her chair. As brave as Christine was trying to be she felt the tears welling up in her eyes and her voice came out in a gargle.
"It doesn't matter what you look like, or what anybody looks like. It only matters what you look like inside."
She looked out the window again and angrily wiped at the tears rolling down her cheeks. She had told herself during the drive to Jennifer's that she would not cry, and here she was breaking her promise.
"Here's a tissue," Jennifer offered and leaned back into her pillows. "We've used a lot of tissues."
Christine blew her nose loudly. "I'm better now," she said. "I'm sorry - I came to cheer you up today!"
"It's alright, you have. We all cry, especially my mother. Most of all, I worry about my mother. I keep telling her she has to be strong and go on after I'm not here to take care of her. She'll have to be strong for my father, and he'll have to be strong for her."
"Does it hurt? Does it hurt to..." but Christine could not say the word.
"To die? Sometimes. Sometimes it hurts very bad, but the doctors give you something to take away the pain. But the medicine makes me sleep too much. Sometimes I want to stay awake, even when it hurts. Mostly it hurts in your heart, because of all the people you love who love you back. Sometimes the love and the pain are so mixed up together!"
"Are you scared?" Christine asked. She knew she was.
"At first, I was very scared, and my mom and dad, too. They tried to act so brave, so I'd be brave. But then, I accepted it and mostly it's just peaceful now. Soon the pain will be over with and I know that's the hardest thing for the people who love me to watch."
Jennifer closed her eyes for a moment.
"I just wish I could leave them something," she said quietly. "If I were older, or stronger, maybe I could. I just haven't thought of anything yet, but I don't have much time. That makes me sad."
Christine thought about that, then she remembered what she had brought for Jennifer. She reached down and picked up her bag, and pulled out Oma's red and gold enameled box.
"It's beautiful!" Jennifer exclaimed. "What's in it? Is it a box for something?"
And Christine told her. She told her all about boxes and their treasures, and everything exactly the way Oma had explained it. Not only did Jennifer understand, but she had some wonderful ideas of the kinds of things that boxes can hold. Christine saw that Jennifer knew very well what was in her own box.
Soon the two of them were talking and laughing and remembering, and before they knew it, it was time for Christine's mother to take her home.
"Thank you so much, Chrissie," Jennifer whispered, holding the box tightly to her chest. "Now I know what I'm leaving behind for everyone!"
Christine beamed because the tickle of happiness insider her felt stronger than ever before. She leaned over and gave Jennifer a gentle hug and a kiss on top of her head. "Will I see you again, Jennifer?" she asked hopefully. But Jennifer didn't answer because she had fallen asleep.
"I'm sure I will," Christine said softly, "box or not."
Christine answered the door when Jennifer's mother came to visit several weeks later. She brought her into the living room where her mother sat looking at the family photo album.
"I'm sorry I must make this a short visit," Jennifer's mother said. "My husband and I are leaving for a few weeks and, well, I have so many things to do."
She explained that since Jennifer's death, Jennifer's father had urged her to come away for awhile to some quiet, special place where they could collect themselves.
"I'm sure that's a very good idea," Christine's mother agreed.
"Christine," Jennifer's mother turned to her, "we want to thank you and the other children, and Miss Wells, for making this time a little easier for us and for Jennifer. It has been a very difficult time for us and we appreciate that we had Jennifer for as long as we did, and that we were able to show her that we loved her."
Christine's mother reached over and took Jennifer's mother's hand and gave it a firm squeeze.
"I also came by to return this to you, Christine," she said, and feeling inside the bag she'd brought with her, she pulled out Oma's pretty box.
"For the last several weeks, this box was very special to Jennifer, and she even asked that it be next to her in the hospital. It was very sweet of you to lend it to her, and I'm curious about what is in it. After Jennifer was gone, we looked for what must have been in the box, but we only found everything that Jennifer had before."
Christine accepted the box and held it on her lap before answering.
"This is a magic box that my grandmother gave to me," she said, tracing her finger around its gilded edges. "But it's only one of many, many magic boxes. And like all of them it is full of the most wonderful things, especially now that it has been with Jennifer."
"But I don't understand," Jennifer's mother said. "We asked her what was in the box and she just said 'everything,' but later - well, the box was locked and we couldn't find the key, so we shook it gently - it felt quite empty."
"What was in the box, Chrissie?" her mother asked.
Christine began slowly at first, eyes closed tightly, and she tried hard to include everything Oma had said, and the list of things she and Jennifer had thought of.
"Mostly they are the things we are made of. Not just things that you can see, but also things you can feel. Like when a parade passes by and you can feel the drums in your stomach and your toes won't keep still. The way music can make a tingle down the back of your neck. The way the air smells when the leaves begin to fall and the different way it smells when the flowers are blooming, or after it rains.
"The way you feel when you help somebody because you want to, and not because you have to. The way the sun makes someone's hair shine. The different sounds of people's laughter - some in little hiccups, some like bells tinkling, some like big bursts from their bellies!
"The way you feel when you make something special for someone. The smell of cookies baking and the feeling of sliding into a warm bath. Or making yourself pretty just for yourself, that feeling, too.
"The feeling you have when you finish something you didn't think you could finish, or did something you didn't think you could do. Or just the feeling of trying.
"The sound of rain dribbling down the window, or the feeling of wooshing down a hill in the snow. Making someone smile who looks like they could use a smile. Saying 'Good morning' to someone because it is a good morning.
"The feeling you have when you think of all the people you love, and all the people who love you.
"The feeling of appreciation for everything you do have, instead of feeling sorry about what you don't have, or about what you've lost. The feeling of caring, really caring, about all those people who aren't as strong as you, or as smart, or as healthy or happy. The feeling you have when you teach someone to do something, or when they teach you.
"Keeping promises even when they are very hard to keep.
"Singing just because you feel like singing! Making up the words and the tune as you go along.
"The feeling of a hug when you need one, and of having someone wipe away your tears. Saying 'thank you' every time for everything and meaning it.
"The way the sun sparkles across the water like millions of diamonds, and the way it sets at dusk like a big red balloon.
"Forgiving somebody and hoping that when you need it, you'll be forgiven, too.
"Respecting the truth enough to never lie. Knowing the difference between speaking the truth and keeping silent so that the truth doesn't hurt someone. Always being willing to consider somebody else's feelings instead of only thinking of yourself.
"The way it tickles when a bird walks along your finger, or when a puppy kisses you, or when a cat 'kneads dough' on your lap.
"Sharing when you have enough and understanding that sometimes enough is really too much. Most importantly, sharing yourself.
"Promising yourself that no matter how old you'll get, or how many cares and worries you have, you'll never let the child in you stray too far away (that was one of Oma's).
"Remember on every Christmas morning forever, those first Christmas mornings, and how big and bright the tree was, and how the packages shone, and the way the pine smelled (and that had been one of Jennifer's).
"Being thankful for having enough to eat, because some people don't, and being thankful for being warm and dry indoors when it's cold and wet outdoors.
"Laughing at the 'bad' things you did, or someone else did, because they really weren't that bad and they really didn't matter. Not compared to the important things they didn't.
"Always caring about what is right and saying you're sorry when you'd done the wrong thing.
"Thinking twice before you complain. Oma said it is better to use your breath to say what you plan to do about it, instead of complaining about the way it is.
"Patting somebody on the back. Always remembering to encourage them and to tell them they have a friend and that you care.
"Not closing your eyes to the bad, but trying to do something to make it better. Making the world a better place - Oma said if you pick up a piece of paper off the sidewalk or plant a flower where there didn't use to be one, then you can sleep better at night.
"And seeing, really seeing, like waking up and seeing everything for the first time. And hearing, really hearing. Hearing every instrument in the orchestra and letting them carry you up and up until you're flying! And really smelling and really tasting...doing everything with feeling. Knowing the way wet dirt feels between your fingers, and the way you shudder when there's a worm in it. The way the wave feels when it washes over your feet, and the way it feels like it's pulling a sand rug out from under your feet when it runs back to the sea.
"Doing something nice for yourself and looking around for somebody to be nice to.
"Knowing all the colors of the sky and being able, every day, to say 'There's the purple, there's the gray - oh, there's a new pink!'
"Running just because you can, and helping somebody who can't to not mind that they can't. Be their legs for them. Being able to ask for help when you need it and understanding that you are often doing the other person a favor. Oma said everyone needs to be needed.
"Always looking for a way to be helpful. Opening a door, carrying someone's package, giving up your seat.
Christine stopped and took a deep breath before continuing.
"Crying when you miss somebody. Crying from happiness for them.
"The way someone's cheek felt so soft, or their eyes crinkled up when they smiled, or their arm felt so strong, or the way their hair smelled. The way you feel like you love someone so much that you just want to crawl up inside them.
"And getting back up again after you fall down, or get knocked down. Dusting yourself off, taking a deep breath and going on. For yourself and for them."
Christine covered her face with her hands for a moment, then she looked up with a smile and with a tear glistening on each cheek.
"Such a lot of wisdom in such a little box," Christine's mother said softly, looking at her with pride.
"Chrissie," Jennifer's mother reached over and laid her hand on the box. "Jennifer told me before she died that I must not miss the box, that I must hold onto what was in the box. Now I understand what she meant and I hope that she will be proud of me. I want very much to hold onto what is in the box, and I thank you very much for helping me to remember.
"Where is your grandmother, Chrissie? I'd like to also thank her for sharing her beautiful box."
Christine looked at her mother and then back to Jennifer's mother.
"I'm sure she knows," Christine said, "but my grandmother died last week."
"Oh dear," Jennifer's mother looked startled. "I'm so sorry...I didn't know."
"We're doing okay," Christine's mother said. "It's not easy. We loved her very much and we miss her, but as she said, only the box is gone."
Christine picked up the box and kissed it, and then placed it on Jennifer's mother's lap.
"I have many things to remember Oma by and I know she also would want you to have this. Nothing can ever replace Jennifer in your life, but sometimes, when it's hard, I hope you'll remember."
"I will, Chrissie," Jennifer's mother promised. "Thank you."
They gave each other a strong hug at the door and Christine's Magic Box sparkled in the sunlight as Jennifer's mother carried it to her car.
And from then on, they all remembered.
The End - but not really