Deathbed Prayers, Finally Deciphered


Last week, MetaFilter member Janna Holm posted a request for help to the online community:

My grandmother passed away in 1996 of a fast-spreading cancer. She was non-communicative her last two weeks, but in that time, she left at least 20 index cards with scribbled letters on them. My cousins and I were between 8-10 years old at the time, and believed she was leaving us a code. We puzzled over them for a few months trying substitution ciphers, and didn’t get anywhere. My father found one of the cards the other day and I love puzzles and want to tackle the mystery again.

Mario Aguilar summarizes what happened next:

Holy moly, wouldn’t you know it? The code turned out to be last prayers of a dying woman. Each letter stood for the first letter of the word in a prayer or message to God. The back of the card [here] was the easiest to decypher, revealing the pattern. As harperpitt noted, this is almost certainly the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name… etc etc etc

Having recognized the pattern and the prayer-like sentiment, community members started piecing together the front side of the card bit by bit. It all appears to be a series of thank yous and requests to god; things like “Please see that we are all happy and safe in our lives and work” and “thank you Almighty God for listening to my prayers and answering them.”

Casey Cep comments:

Janna Holm, in one of her final posts on the thread, said that her father suspects her grandmother had not only lost the ability to speak but was losing her memory when she wrote out the cards. Perhaps, then, the code was not to disguise her prayers but a device by which she preserved and protected them. Realizing that, Holm wrote on Tuesday, “At this point, I don’t think much more can or should be deciphered …. I’m O.K. leaving a little mystery with this one.” Would that we all could live with such mystery, and not only in prayer.

(Photo via MetaFilter user JannaK)