Though Elena Desserich died at the age of six, she left behind an amazing gift for her family: a series of hidden love notes.
Elena Desserich was a beautiful girl with long blonde hair and a radiant smile. She loved to wear lace and ruffles (which she called “squibble-squabbles”), polka dot tights, and dresses. She loved to draw, paint, and write. And most of all, she loved her parents and her little sister, Gracie.
Elena had dreamed of becoming an artist when she grew up—but sadly, she never had the chance to reach adulthood. When Elena was only five years old, she was diagnosed with pediatric brain cancer.
“They told us at the very beginning that she had 135 days to live,” Elena’s father, Keith Desserich, told WLWT News.
Elena and her family made the most of that time. She spent the long days in the hospital working on her paintings, which were full of hearts, fairies, and smiling families. One of her artworks was displayed in a local gallery in Cincinnati, right next to a Picasso painting. As the tumor grew larger and she lost the use of her voice, she began to communicate with her family by writing notes.
Up until the very end, she wanted nothing more than to be with her family: Just days before her death, she danced with her father. He held her up off the ground, but she clasped her arms tight around his neck, smiling the whole time.
Elena died in 2007, just nine months after her diagnosis, lying in bed beside her parents.
Even though they’d known Elena’s death was inevitable, her parents Keith and Brooke were devastated by the loss. But they soon discovered that she had left a gift behind for them.
Not long after her death, Elena’s parents were sorting through her things when they began to find notes that she had written to them. “They would be in between CDs or between books on our bookshelf,” said Keith.
All through her final days, Elena had been writing love notes to her family, and hiding them in secret places throughout the house.
“We started to collect them and they would all say ‘I love you Mom, Dad and Grace.’ We kept finding them, and still to this day, we keep finding them.”
While Brooke and Keith treasure all of the notes from Elena, each of them has left a single envelope unopened. “We always want to know that there’s one more note that we haven’t read yet,” said Keith.
Keith and Brooke recently published a book about Elena’s short but inspiring life, called Notes Left Behind. All proceeds from the sale of the book go towards The Cure Starts Now, the non-profit they founded to help find a cure for cancer.
Originally published November 2009