Naomi Richmond describes herself as a Pollyanna, which probably is why she remained optimistic through battles with four kinds of cancer over three decades.

But when thieves struck her home while she accompanied her dying husband to the hospital, it crushed her belief that people are basically good.

"It jaded me," said Richmond, 63.

But the feeling didn't last.

On Feb. 17, the day after the death of her husband, David, the former teacher wrote a sarcastic open letter to the thieves, which she posted on Facebook. It was later published by a Lake County newspaper.

"Thank you to whomever it was that was so thoughtful that they found it necessary to kick in my front door and rob my house when I left to follow the ambulance to the hospital when my husband David died last night," the Feb. 17 letter begins. Richmond goes on to list some of the stolen items, many of which belonged to her late husband.

"Thank you so much for thinking of me and removing the things from my house that you knew would remind me of him," the letter states.

"I wasn't going to be a victim," Richmond said, explaining the tone of her letter. "I've always been a smart aleck."

Within days of writing the letter, emails, Facebook postings and phone calls began pouring in from around the world as Richmond's words went viral.

"I just read your letter on the net and I decided to drop my condolence to you. The God lord will be with you and make you happy," a man from Qatar wrote in an email Richmond received Wednesday. She's also heard from people in France and New Zealand.

"I have over 300 emails," she said. "I always knew people were good. I just had that momentary lapse," she said.

Many people expressed sympathy and anger over the thefts. Some offered to replace stolen items, including her Kindle Fire tablet. One person offered to bake her a rhubarb pie. Others have made donations to a fund, now at about $5,000, to cover funeral costs.

The things Richmond most wants back are irreplaceable: her husband's pillow case, which she suspects the thieves used to carry away their loot, and an antique heirloom ring that was brought from Russia to the United States by David Richmond's great-grandmother.

It has a heart-shaped setting filled with about 20 tiny, heart-shaped garnets and is valued at close to $8,000. One of the garnets is missing, she said.

Other items stolen include several laptop computers, several guns and a knife her husband made himself.

Deputies brought Richmond a laptop they thought belonged to her husband, but it turned out not to be his, she said.

Richmond is hoping the widespread knowledge of her case will help recover the more cherished items.

"Good luck selling anything," she said of the thieves. "Every pawn shop and every person in the county knows."

Richmond suspects whoever broke into and ransacked her home lives nearby or heard the call for an ambulance over a police scanner, and that angers her.

But mostly she feels overwhelming gratitude to all the people who have supported her.

"I'm in awe," Richmond said.

Chances are, she would have recovered her trust on her own, just as she has survived multiple health setbacks.

"David used to say I was part cockroach and part Pollyanna. It's hard to kill you off," she said, laughing at the recollection. Richmond said her husband of 25 years greatly enhanced her natural optimism.

"He made me laugh every day."

(You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com.)