Annmarie Klein knows she's blessed to have survived the tornado that leveled her family's central Illinois home, and she understands most of the things they lost—the Jacuzzi, 60-inch TVs, diamond jewelry, the convertible—can be replaced. That's not true for a mint green box that contained three cards, to her, "the most important thing in my house." The cards swept away by the Nov. 17 twister that ripped through Washington, Ill., were personalized by Klein's brother, Paul McLaughlin, with notes for each of his three children before his 2005 death from colon cancer at age 39.
The suburban Boston resident fought cancer for six years, and gave her the cards, which were sealed in neon pink and yellow envelopes, to give to Brendan, Cameron and Erin, who are now ages 10 to 18. "My brother told me, before dying, to give those cards to his kids when the time is right, their 18th birthday, 21st birthday, the day they got married. I feel like I let him down," an anguished Klein said through tears this week. The search has consumed her since the storm bowled into her Tazewell County town, and strangers have joined her search. A Facebook post about the missing box has been shared more than 25,000 times. (Read more tornado stories.)