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Letters About Literature National Winners 2011

National Honor Winner, Level 2: Heather Wiggins, MI

Dear Mrs. Holbrook,

When it comes to an unexpected death, my family members and I are no innocent newborn babes. My brother’s death shattered my family’s world. When I read your poem “Finals” for the first time this year, my response to it filled my mind so thoroughly it led in to a physical response. My knees gave out, and I was forced to sit as my mind was slingshotted back six years ago to the day that I came home to find my little brother was gone, ascending into Heaven, smiling and laughing the whole way. The words in your poem brought to the surface from the depths of my brain the epiphany that I was cold and unresponsive to anything that connected me to my brother.

I was six years old, and my little brothers, Nathan and Zach, were the center for my limited world. I felt so grown up and alive as I watched Nathan place his chubby little hands around a new red crayon , bending his neck to scrawl a red rainbow just for me. That was my last memory of him. The next day after school I was told his heart had failed him. Sometimes my mom describes me at that moment as having my happiness drain away. Later, I asked so many questions; I wanted to know every detail. Like the students in your poem, each question brought me closer to the harsh truth of my brother’s death.

In the years that followed I was truly like the students in your poem after the news, “unresponsive, with fixed eyes.” Although I was cheerful enough in the company of others, alone my eyes glazed over and my mind returned to those memories before that horrible day that were filled with the glow of his happiness. Even though I knew there was no going back or redoing that time, I clung to his memory and failed to move on. Your words made me view myself from outside. I realized I had let myself become a hollow puppet. I realized I wasn’t fooling anyone with my façade of happiness. I realized I had let my dreams and life deteriorate. I know Nathan wouldn’t have wanted that for me. I knew I had to move on and come to terms with the fact that although Nathan’s dead he’s still with me. He guided my hand to your book and he’ll understand that I need to move on with my life.

Since that day I’ve changed on the inside. Because of your words I’ve learned what it feels like to move on but never forget. My parents sometimes comment that I’ve gone from a hollow husk to someone alive with the joy of life. I’d like to thank you for writing “Finals.” When you wrote it, you probably weren’t trying to save a life but you have. Maybe not in the literal sense of the word, you still saved me from a life of loneliness and depression. Your words changed me and I would like to thank you with all my heart.

Heather Wiggins