Grandma with brain cancer left final message to grandchildren in code. 20 years later—finally solved

"[We] believed she was leaving us a code. We puzzled over them... and didn't get anywhere"
January 18, 2018 12:12 pm Last Updated: January 18, 2018 12:12 pm

Janna Holm was just 11 in her grandmother’s last year of battling brain cancer. In her last two weeks, she was completely uncommunicative, Holm remembered. But she wrote out at least 20 index cards covered in some indecipherable text, handing them to Holm and her cousins at the time, all children around the ages of 8–10.

“[We] believed she was leaving us a code. We puzzled over them for a few months trying substitution ciphers, and didn’t get anywhere,” Holm said.

Nearly 20 years later, Holm’s father had been tidying up and found one of the index cards.

“I love puzzles and want to tackle the mystery again,” she shared online. There were definite patterns to the text, so Holm thought maybe they might be song lyrics, and turned to the internet for some assistance.

On Ask MetaFilter, Holm posted the text to the index card her father found:

Front of card (image)
PDGNHBOBVPNSNHANAOENCNANHPNCPND,NUOCP
NNPNAPNMSMDKBMLPOWP,NAP,]NEENTGBTMLS
HHSSSTMALHFFTMOFPANSTP,NIOOIPNTPNROA
NTRSANTOTTAPOD,PLUADONNOANPBOOLL,PKUA
SASIMAB,PAGA,]PMOMTAVMAJAMMSSSLLAB
APMUTTCTCCATFGSHHILANRNPHTAOLP,]PST
WAAHASIOLAIOW,PSTWALOJTHTPATP,PSTWA
GAOKWOCWASAPSTWADVGWAIIRARBOSAO,]
PSTWAHPPAAETWW,PSTWAHTPMAESTCWE,]
PSTAOUCOOTIOWHAMPAPSTTPDNHA,PSTWAA
HAS,PAGA,PSTWAAIEHAPSTWARIEH,]PSTTPAI
DNBTVJEOAOU,PAGA,]PSTTOUWWTLWATOUWS
LWDSWGOBS,PSTWAHSAHVASASBTATWARH
SFAOT,PSTWAHBPITNRSTNOTROUHTTBPM,]
PSTVCADAFLAFESJMPLG(the letter C is written here and later scribbled out with a different pen)BGBMBATROURSSAS
FOHP,]PSTWAGAVWWOA,PAGA]PSTEIFFAWAU.]
TYAGFPFG,TYAGFLTMPAAT,TYAGFE,A-TYAGFE,AAA

Back of card (image)
1. OFWAIHHBTNTKCTWBDOEAIIIHFUTDODBAFUOT
AWFTWTAUALUNITBDUFEFTITKTPATGFAEA
2. OFWAIHHBTNTKCTWBDOEAIIIHFUTDODBAFUOT
AWFTWTAUALUNITBDUFEFTITKTPATGFAEA

(JannaK/imgur)
(JannaK/imgur)

“I thought, ‘It doesn’t hurt to put it on there so I might as well give it a try,'” Holm told Mashable.

Not long after she made her post, she got an answer. Minutes after, several other commenters replied with similar theories.

“Was she a religious woman?” harperpitt, among others, asked.

The last As, as well as the AAA combo, make me think of “Amen, amen, amen.” So extrapolating — TYAGF = “Thank you Almighty God for…”

It would make sense to end with “Thank you, Almighty God, for everything, Amen – Thank you, Almighty God, for everything, Amen, Amen, Amen.”

Holm was astounded.

“Holy cow! 14 minutes to solve the back of the card that has been bugging my family for 20 years! That is amazing!” she wrote back.

Holm did not remember her grandmother as particularly religious, but added that they grew up in a Lutheran household.

Following the Bible theme, commenters started chiming in to match the remaining bits and pieces that were becoming clear. Some were other phrases used in prayer, and some letters that didn’t fit were thought to be initials of family members’ names.

The 20-year mystery was closer and closer to being decoded.

A while later, Holm updated with a partially solved version of the card, now with much of it filled in.

Please dear God NHBOBVPNSNHANAOENCNANHPNCPND,
NUOCPNNPNAPNMSMDKBMLPOWP, NAP.
NEENTGBTMLSHHSSSTMALHFFTMOFPANSTP,
NIOOIPNTPNROANTRSANTOTTAPOD,
PLUADONNOANPBOOLL,
Please keep us all safe and sound in mind and body, praise and glory Amen.
Please MOMTAVMAJAMMSSSLLABAPMUTTCTCCATFGSHHILANRNPHTAOLP.
Please see that we are all happy and safe in our lives and in our work,
Please see that we ALOJTHTPATP,
Please see that we AGAOKWOCWAS and please see that we ADVGWAIIRARBOSAO,
Please see that we AHPPAAETWW,
Please see that we AHTPMAESTCWE.
Please see that all of us COOTIOWH all my prayers and please see that the pain does not hurt anymore,
Please see that we are all happy and safe, praise and glory Amen,
Please see that we are all in excellent health and please see that WARIEH.
Please see that TPAIDNBTVJEO any of us, praise and glory Amen.
Please see that TOUWWTLWATOUWSLWDSWGOBS,
Please see that we are HSAHVASASBTATWARHSFAOT,
Please see that we all HBPITNR see that none of the rest of us have to TBPM.
Please see that VCADAFLAFESJMPLGBGBMBA the rest of us RSSASFOHP.
Please see that WAGAVWWOA, praise and glory Amen.
Please see that EIFFAWAU.

Thank you Almighty God for PFG.
Thank you Almighty God for listening to my prayers and answering them.
Thank you Almighty God for everything, Amen.
Thank you Almighty God for everything, Amen Amen Amen

It was clear that some of Holm’s grandmother’s last words, though not spoken, were personal prayers—intimate and thorough—20 index cards full of them.

“I think at this point, it’s basically a personal prayer of [my grandma’s] … so I don’t know if anyone is going to be able to truly decode the whole thing,” Holm told Mashable. “It’s nice to just have an idea of what it is and what, in general terms, an idea of what she was thinking about in her last couple weeks.”