It’s a dilemma you might face as a caregiver. The one you’re caring for customarily sent out Christmas cards. How do you help them now when they can barely sign their name?
A few Christmases ago, I wrote a letter on my mom’s behalf in an attempt to tactfully update mom’s family and friends concerning her condition and her new living arrangement. It was my goal to share the truth of what was going on with mom’s health, yet preserve her dignity in the process.
To Charlotte’s Dear Friends and Family
Hardly a day passes where my mom doesn’t tell me that she really needs to “buy some stationery with lines” and then she offers to give me some money so that I can go to the Post Office and buy her some postage stamps so she can write her friends. The truth is, Mom has plenty of stationery and more postage stamps than she’ll use in her lifetime. She just cannot get the words down on paper anymore. They are in her heart, but she can’t concentrate long enough to get them out and write them down. Sadly, Alzheimer’s has stolen her ability to write a letter. Much to her great frustration, it was even difficult for her to write, “Love, Great Grandma” on the Christmas cards I addressed for her great-grandchildren.
So many of you carved time out of your schedules to drop a note in the mail, send a card, pictures, and newsy bits from all the places she called “home.” Mom absolutely loves receiving mail, reading each card and letter over and over again, oftentimes believing she is reading the same piece of mail for the first time. So, if you will please indulge me, let me write the letter I believe my mother would write to you if she could.
Following that salutation and introductory remarks, I filled her loved ones in on the latest happenings in Mom’s life, and shared more than a few pictures.
Dear Family and Friends,
“Home” for me is now in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, where I have a lovely 1-bedroom senior apartment, which is just perfect for me. It boasts a kitchen with more counter-top space than I had in my Milwaukee home! I was able to bring my favorite pieces of furniture with me too, including my entire living room set, dining suite, and master bedroom suite. So many of my familiar things are here – including pieces of my garden which Cindie transported from my Milwaukee garden to pots on my patio (you know how I loved flower gardening!).
Most importantly, family is here.
As many of you know, I made this move because of concerns about short-term memory loss over the past several years. While this diagnosis of Alzheimer’s has been hard to accept, God has allowed it for a purpose. The move was hard for me. I lived in that house on the corner of 106th and Stark since Jerry and I had it constructed in 1962. We raised our children there. Jerry and I were actively involved in our local church and other ministries…we LOVED our church family at Spring Creek Church. But, my move – though difficult – was for the best.
Ever since my husband Jerry went home to be with his Savior in 2008, my daughter Cindie was making frequent trips from her home in Fitchburg (near Madison, WI) to help me, so it seemed best to live closer to Cindie and her husband Wayne, who serves as my very competent (and free) financial advisor, taking care of decisions related to my finances.
In spite of my age and memory deficits (and very painful knees), I’m thankful to be doing fairly well physically. When asked how I’m doing on any given day, I like to answer, “Well, I’m vertical!”
I’m so very grateful for the many friends and family who have helped me – especially over the past year. Some helped ready my home for sale by painting walls, volunteering for handyman jobs, selling my extra belongings, cleaning out my home and garage once it was empty, and even selling my home for me. Many of the pastoral staff and deacons of my church (pictured at the top of this paragraph) blessed me by showing up in force to move me out of my house. And my new church family was so kind to help me move into my new place (see the photo below). Others of you have continued to write me, or call me on the phone (although I don’t hear very well anymore, so mail is best), or visited with me. I’m especially grateful for those of you who pray for me.
Next, in typical newsy Christmas letter fashion, I filled her readers in on a few of the happenings in mom’s family, just as she would have done if she had written the letter herself, closing the letter with an invitation to visit and a hint as to how to best communicate with her.
I’ll spare you all the family details, but the closing went something like this:
I’m really looking forward to the possibility of visits from a few of my other grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the coming year. As my memory fades, I may not remember your names, or your relationship to me. Five minutes after you leave, I may not even remember that you were here. But, I promise you that I will enjoy our moments together and your visit will mean the world to me.
Here is my new address if you would like to write to me. Please do not be too upset if you do not receive mail from me in return – I do my best, but it is hard for me to compose my thoughts on paper.
With all my love and affection,
I tucked the letter in with some of the cards I helped her address making sure her closest friends and family members received one. As Christmas cards began to arrive in the mail, I took note of who had sent a greeting to Mom and then popped a Christmas letter into the mail for them too. Mom’s friends and extended family expressed great appreciation for this letter. There were those who hadn’t heard the “news” yet, so it was good that “she” shared it herself, rather than have them hear the sometimes skewed version passed through the grapevine. Others had noticed something was wrong, but didn’t want to ask questions that might perhaps offend. This letter answered those questions they didn’t know how to ask.
It’s probably time for another letter, as much has changed in the two years since I composed the letter on Mom’s behalf. Alzheimer’s disease relentlessly marches on, warring with her brain and body, claiming more of my mother’s memories and physical abilities with the passage of time.
I share this letter as my caregiving tip for the week, encouraging fellow caregivers to communicate in some fashion with those whom your loved one holds dear.