Elder Care Information

When the Box is Empty

The King had a modest kingdom. He was Danish. This meant he was proud, tall, athletic and he enjoyed a quick wit. He was married to a princess from Great Britain at a very young age. They were both really just children when they began their own family.

They had three children, two boys and a girl. The children all shared one common aim, to make the King proud. Each child vied for the King's attention and love, each using a different strategy.

The eldest son used music to make his father proud. The middle child, the daughter used humor and dancing. The youngest chose sports, knowing his father had once been a great athlete, a champion in several sports.

They had a modest castle, the King always worked hard to provide for his family. Demonstrating affection wasn't something he was ever comfortable with. So, in his own way, he captured treasured moments by making or collecting trinkets. Each little symbol represented a special family moment. Some were shiny, golden; still others were like little bells that made a sound when you picked them up. There was a story for each trinket.

You see the King was a gifted storyteller. At dinner he would open up the box and hold up a trinket and smile. He would look up and to the right, and then tell a wonderful story that would have the children laughing, crying or shaking their head in disbelief.

Telling stories became a family tradition.

He encouraged the children to begin collecting their own trinkets and stories.

As it is with most children, they obeyed their father and began filling up their boxes with symbols. Though the children were never very close, there were moments of family joy. They were all very busy trying to please the King with their respective gifts.

As the years went by, the Kings Box became a giant chest, ornate, hand carved and full of trinkets. As the King grew older the quality and quantity of the contents of the chest improved. Soon the children had children of their own and they maintained the ritual of stories at the dinner table.

One day, the King reached in his box for a specific trinket and found it missing.

Thinking this somewhat odd, he thought perhaps he might have given it to his youngest son. He forgot about it. The next day, the same thing happened; a specific trinket was not to be found.

What the King did not know was a thief had snuck in the night and stolen the shiniest trinket. The thief liked the trinket so much, the next night he took a different one.

Because there were so many at first the King didn't notice. You see, this thief in the night was relentless, insidious, crafty and brutal. He was sneaking into his chambers and quietly pinching the King's most treasured possessions, his memories.

One night the Queen heard a noise that startled her. She lit a match and held up the candle beside the bed. Holding it up high she saw the thief?it was a raccoon! He had a little bell in his hands. The light scared him and he scurried off with the bell.

The queen had long since suspected something was wrong, now she knew. She gave it a name. That terrible raccoon. The King wasn't crazy and neither was she. Something really was taking the King's most treasured gifts.

The next day they put a lock on the chest. That would stop the thief. The raccoon was too crafty. He picked the lock and kept stealing trinkets every night. The queen tried an alarm, a special light, and guard dogs, nothing worked. Each night the raccoon kept stealing the King's prizes. One day the box was empty! It was a sad day in the kingdom. The children came and sat at the feet the of the King and Queen and cried.

There was nothing to do.

All the memories were gone. The King had no more stories to tell. He was silent. He sat there with a far away look. That was how it was going to be. That is life when the box is empty.

After a time, when the pain of the empty box came a little easier to accept, the Queen said to her children, go home, go through your chests, your boxes of trinkets. Choose the best ones. Each time you come to visit the King, bring a trinket and we shall put it in your father's box. We shall tell that story, and laugh, cry and enjoy it as something special. I will guard it.

I will keep a constant vigil. In this way, the raccoon can never take your stories. When we get together we shall honor the King in this special way.

So it was, once a week, the children would bring their children for a visit and drop a trinket in the box. This brought the children together in a way that never existed before.

The raccoon was very unhappy about all this. He still tried to get in the castle, but the love of the family kept him on the outside, looking in. Though he tried to keep stealing as thieves do, he never took another trinket.

Love does that. It's not something even the smartest thief in the world can take. That was the lesson learned in the Kingdom.

The box was full until the day the King finally passed away. When he did, he was surrounded by children, grandchildren, stories, trinkets and love.

Only one life that soon is past; only what's done with love will last.

To people all over the world, that ever suffered the terrible pain of losing a loved one to Alzheimer's. I understand your pain. The night I read this story to my youngest son Evan, we wept together, holding each other tight. I pray science one day finds a cure for this terrible disease. In the meantime, may this little story bring you and your family comfort. May it bring your family a little closer together, as it has mine. Send this story to someone you know that is suffering. Perhaps it will heal the pain of loss for them or their children just a little bit. Grief is a form of energy and must find a way out. My hope is you make the time to put some trinkets in your family's box. It won't feel quite so empty.

Mark Matteson

Ugly Dog Publishing - Copyright 2005

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