Irene was a lady of few words. I wondered if it was part of her personality. Or, perhaps, she had talked so much throughout her life as a school teacher that now she decided to indulge in solitude and quietness. But I knew my thought was false reasoning because the cold hard fact was that Irene had Alzheimer’s dementia.
Irene had become familiar with her environment and the routine of the nursing home after several years of living there. She wheeled herself to the dining room, and to some of the facility activities. She timidly smiled at others she passed in the hall. Smiling had become her preferred method of communication. When she spoke to others, it was usually brief.
One day, as I was walking by the reception desk, I noticed Irene was writing on a sheet of paper. I had never seen Irene write before. I had never asked her to write anything before, I realized.
I glanced at Elizabeth, the receptionist, and frowned.
My curiosity grew stronger as Elizabeth flashed a mischievous smile.
I drew closer to the desk, scrutinizing the duo.
“Irene is writing a letter to her husband,” Elizabeth whispered.
“Is she?” I exclaimed, perplexed.
Irene raised her head, and handed the piece of paper to Elizabeth.
“Thank you,” Irene said, with a gracious smile.
“You’re welcome,” Elizabeth replied in a gentle voice. “I will take care of your letter.”
Irene flashed a wide smile now, turned around her wheelchair, and headed toward the dining room for lunch.
“What’s going on?” I anxiously inquired.
“Irene came by and when she saw the stack of mail on the desk, she asked me if I had a piece of paper and a pencil, as she needed to write a letter to her husband.”
“Is that right?” I asked, intrigued. “You know Irene’s husband passed away a long time ago.”
“I know.” Elizabeth replied, her voice carrying a hint of sadness.
“Can I see the letter?” I asked.
I couldn’t wait to see what Irene had written, and especially the message to her husband. I stared at the piece of paper, puzzled.
The hand-writing was unintelligible.
I sighed and pursed my lips.
“I wish I could read what she wrote,” I commented.
“Oh, wait a minute...” Elizabeth said, in reflection. “I remember her saying she was going to ask her husband to come over for breakfast.”
“Aw...” My heart reached out to Irene. I couldn’t imagine how much she missed her husband, thinking he was just a few miles away.
I glanced again at the note, and, all of a sudden, some of the words gleamed on the pale paper, clearly readable:
(I love you)
My eyes welled with tears. I wiped my eyes and looked at Elizabeth. She was fighting back tears.
Irene’s words were powerful proof of her love for her husband. Her Alzheimer’s may have destroyed her brain cells, but not her ability to love and long for her life-long companion. The Alzheimer’s may have silenced her lips, but it had not taken away her faithfulness.
I treasured Irene’s love letter as a reminder that, unlike what Pat Robertson may think, Alzheimer’s is not “a kind of death.” Alzheimer’s is rather a test of loyalty and commitment to our loved ones.
Irene’s love for her husband was vibrant and alive. It was not a sad, or a remorseful love. It was a genuine and everlasting love.