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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Irene's Letter

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:

(Dear John)

(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.

Thank you Cynthia over at PrayerNotes 
for crafting this marvelous souvenir. 
Cynthia's blog


MunirGhiasuddin said...

This is very touching indeed. My husband and my kids are in every manner more important to me than myself. As much as I feel bad for Irene, I think that she has one treasure that most of us -- sane people don't. that is her love for her husband. Thanks for sharing:)

Cynthia said...

This is so sweet and filled with devotion and love.... I, now, understand the beauty of this letter. I will create your paperweight and place a photo of it, in my shop, for all to see. What testament of love!

Anita said...

What a wonderful story of love and hope. Thank you for sharing.

Linda Austin said...

This is an important message for me. Someday there will come a time when my mom won't remember who I am, but I'll know she still remembers a daughter and that she loves her. Thank you, Doris.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

A very touching and important post, Doris. It really is an answer to the revolting Pat Robertson proclamation. How reassuring to know that love can survive such devastation.

Linda said...

Touching, sad and lovely all at once.

Clint said...

My mother-in-law was given a baby doll to keep her company in her Alzheimer's fueled dementia. She carries that doll everywhere in the facility in which she resides. It is very, very sad... and touching in a deep way.

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

This is probably my favorite of all your posts I've read. And, yes, I too started to feel a little extra moisture in my eyes as I followed the story.

>>...Alzheimer’s is rather a test of loyalty and commitment to our loved ones.

I think that is exactly right! You're probably spot on. I guess you would pass the test and "Mr. Christian", Pat Robertson, would not. I like that you mentioned his woefully wrong take on it again. (You didn't do that as a little gift for me, didja? Probably not, but...)

I especially felt sad knowing that despite Irene's love letter, her husband wasn't going to be meeting her some morning for breakfast. (Hopefully she soon forgot having written the letter.)

This one was so touching!

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Linda Myers said...

Sad for us to read. Maybe not so sad for her to write.

none said...

This story is so touching, poignant, and well-written. It has made me understand Alzheimer's a little better and made me realize how love endures all things.

Mrs. Pancakes said...

This is very sweet! Alzheimer takes so much away from people!

Arkansas Patti said...

This needs to be brought to Mr. Robertson's attention. Am I the only one who thinks maybe his wife is slipping away and he is paving the way for a divorce?
Beautiful story and I loved "Alzheimer’s is rather a test of loyalty and commitment to our loved ones".
Well done per usual.

Mariette VandenMunckhof-Vedder said...

Dearest Doris,

Guess I forgot to comment right away as I did share this with Pieter too. Very touching and beautifully worded, as always!
Love to you,



Very touching, I would hate to get to that stage, as one gets older it do cross one's mind.


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Mary L. Briggs said...

A very, very sweet story. I do think that 'love lives on' in ways that we can't always understand. I have seen so many people turn away from their relatives with Alzheimer's and never come to visit them. I just wish that they would put themselves in the 'shoes' of their loved one and think what they would want for themselves.

Sandi said...

I was touched by this story. When my second mom (she was mom for 35 years) was diagnosed with alzheimer's i tried to encourage her to write. I gave her a journal, but she was at that point, "too aware" of what was happening to her, and very frustrated when she tried to write. She couldn't make the words "right".

My dad and I were just reminiscing about her last Sunday, and how sweet and funny she was. As her memories faded, she forgot who we were, but she was happy when we visited her until just the last few months. All six of us kids were with her when she took her last breath. It was right and none of us ever regretted the time spent with our mom.

David Edward said...

Last year my mom would sometimes mistake me for her husband ( my dad)
i took it as a compliment because he was a fine, kind and thoughtful man.
Mom is with him now in heaven, enjoying her reward for many years of faithfulness.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Doris .. lovely post and comments - the most important thing here .. is that Elizabeth satisfied Irene and she went away happy. That might happen every day .. it wouldn't matter .. Irene was happy having written her letter.

Extremely evocative - but so rewarding to read .. thanks so much for sharing with us .. Hilary

Mary Aalgaard said...

What a treasure that is - the memory, the love, the need to communicate them both.
Thanks, again, for sharing this piece of someone's life.
(PS, I shared your book with my mom. She's been working with older patients all her life, and nodded her head through many of the stories.)

dolorah said...

An amazing, sentimental reminder to cherish those we love.


Unknown said...

A touching, sad and thought provoking post. How wonderful that Elizabeth was able to give Irene that brief happiness.

Thanks for sharing.

y-write said...

That is so beautiful, Dors! One of my favorites.

Sweet Lily said...

Touched my heart!

Amrita said...

Irene loved her husband so much. This is real love

Mary said...

A very touching post beautifully shared.

Kim said...

Thank you Doris for sharing this story. It is a wonderful gift to work in the field of social work and have the ooprtunity to witness people in moments of transformation.

Libby said...

this post gives me hope that love is always remembered...

A Lady's Life said...

You know My Mom had Parkinsons's and Alzheimers and I know when she died she was still in there.
The disease locks you indoors and you can't come out. So people think you are not all there but you are.
It might destroy the part of the brain that lets you out so you can function in the world.
I really do not like neurological diseases.

Toyin O. said...

Your stories are always so touching, thanks for sharing.

K. Tree said...

What a gift that she still has that memory. I hope she hangs on to it forever.

Libby said...

...doris, are you ok?

Tamara said...

Thankyou for this post. I am struck by how simple the message was to read if you looked twice. How many times do we take one glance and let the difficult messages go past. Reflection is a powerful tool. I appreciate the reminder to avoid skipping over the hard stuff and take another look. There may be a powerful message there.

Deb Shucka said...

I've been away from blogs for a bit, and was delighted to find three posts waiting for me here. I love the coffee-mug guy and the compassion you showed him. Even more I loved the connection you made to his being ready for help and the help arriving in all its beautiful abundance.

Congrats on your mention in the article. So very cool!

And this piece made me cry, and feel grateful for the reminder just how very precious life is.