6 August 2008

Letters for my Grandmother Mary Agnes

A letter my Mom shared with me today about her mother who passed away June 26, 1991. I was 7 months pregnant at the time, about to be a single mom, overwhelmed and almost completely unaware about alot of what she was going through with her mother who was suffering from senile dementia. She had written the Alzheimer's Society to thank them for their support, yet never mailed the first or second letters. I opened the email at work today and immediately broke down, remembering my grandmother as my mom describes before her disease and feeling the loss with my mother all over again.

I've included her letters, my response and my uncle's response to me - a small, public, family embrace in very fond memory of a wonderful woman who left us way too early. (I've xx'd out some details for privacy sakes)

- M

26 June 1993

Dear Sir/ Ms:

On 26 July 1991, I wrote you a letter expressing my thoughts and feelings about my dear mother. I never did mail this letter to you.

It has been 2 years today since my mother died and I still miss her very much. It's time to mail my July 1991 letter.

Thank you for your help.

26 July 1991

Alzheimer's Society

I wrote you a few months ago to thank you for providing me with information on Alzheimer's and other related memory diseases. I wrote that the material had helped me so much in relating and understanding on how to handle talking and approaching my mother who was diagnosed as having either senile dementia or Alzheimer's disease - it seems no one was really sure because the closeness of both diseases.

When my father died in 1967, I was living in British Columbia and, at that time, I had not been able to come home for several years. My father was never sick; all his life he never had any problems and never had to see a doctor. This time, he was sick for a short while and he knew he was dying. My mother was with him and he held her close to him with love. His death happened very fast. It had hurt me so much to see my father at the end because he wasn't like the father I had remembered At his funeral, because I had been away from him so long, I made a silent vow that I would, no matter how hard it would be financially, to try to visit my mother at least once a year. This I have done over the years and in the past year, I have been home several times.

In May 1990, my new husband and I flew down to Nova Scotia to visit my mother and family. At that time, my mother was having difficulty in remembering things and problems with reading. I tended to joke with her at that time as she used to say she wanted something 'different'. Somehow we always managed to find out what the 'something' was and we had a wonderful time laughing about it together. We took her everywhere with us - to museums, to the Fortress at Louisburg, to dinner, for coffee and it was fabulous to spend all that time with her. Looking back now, I am every so grateful that we had that time together. Being the youngest daughter, I always had a special closeness to my mother and her with me. We held each other and said "I love you" and she was pleased that my husband was "such a good man". She had difficulty in reading English and Polish (she was born in Poland) and had difficulty in forming words. At that time, I did not realize that this was a beginning of a major problem.

My brother was and had always been living at home with my mother. After we (my husband and I) came back , I phoned home quite often as I always had before to see how things where and how everyone was doing. My brother indicated that since I had left, things had really gone 'downhill'. My mother's memory loss had become more severe and at times she was very aggressive. His main worry was that she would wander off, sometimes late at night, and not remember where she was. At one time, a 6 ft. policeman brought her home and she pushed him aside with so much strength that he fell back. She would spend a great amount of money buying dolls of all kinds (she called them her 'babies') and she would become very angry if any of these dolls were moved to another location. She would be walking down the street and slap people that she met. Her sister came to visit and she told her that she hated her and wanted her out of the house. She would get up at midnight, get dressed and go to church or to the legion to see her friends and would become upset because the door was locked and she couldn't understand why. She was shown a picture of her husband (my father) and she didn't know who he was.

One of the saddest things that happened to her was that she forgot how to knit and crochet. She always did these things and was so very good at it - she produced beautiful baby sets, afghans, dollies, slippers, etc. and she so loved to make things.

All these things I heard over the phone and my heart cried out to my mother. People complained about all her dolls and "Why was she buying all these dolls and placing them all around the house?" I thought about it and realized that I felt that if she wanted these dolls, then Why Not? - it was making her happy, no one was being hurt! But through all of this, the one who was suffering the most was my brother. He was always at home, always there to try to handle things that he didn't know how to deal with. He lost weight and became very stressed.

In November 1990, my mother was placed in the XXXXX Mental Hospital for observation and care. It was determined that she was a danger to herself and others. At Christmas, I phoned my brother once again and found him in a state of severe depression. The hospital had phoned and said that my mother was to come home. Txxxxxx (my brother) was beside himself; he knew that if she came home, he would not be able to give her the care she needed and that he would probably be admitted to the hospital himself because of a nervous breakdown. He just couldn't handle it any more. It was a sad Christmas - I felt so torn between my family (my husband and I - our first Christmas; two of my children who were with us) and my family at "home". I phoned again just after Christmas and found that my mother was being kept at the hospital so a sigh of relief was felt by my brother. His work was suffering, his health was suffering and he didn't know what to do.

In February of 1991, I flew down to Sydney again and spent some time there helping out my brother and visiting my mother in the hospital. The first day I arrived, my older brother W took me to the hospital directly from the airport and I saw my mother there. At first, she didn't know who I was but at subsequent visits she remembered me always. She would hold me and tell me how beautiful I was. After each visit, I came home and I cried. I cried for what she was going through - my mother, a vibrant and wonderful person who everyone loved, who dressed so well and was a friend to everyone. Now here she was - her quality of life was gone, her dignity was taken away and it wasn't fair! I wanted her back! - I wanted her the way she was!

The literature I received from the Alzheimer's Society had helped me greatly. I must admit, though, the first time I saw my mother there, all knowledge just flew away and emotion took over. But as time went on, I found that I was able to talk to my mother and even understand her reactions to things. I am thankful for the knowledge I gained from reading the material because although it was hard, my mother and I still retained the closeness that we had had. She didn't always recognize my brothers or my sister, but she remembered me.

Incidentally, I found the care she was receiving at the hospital was excellent. Both staff and other patients provided wonderful care for her. I had never been in a mental hospital before and it was quite an eye-opener - so much suffering, so much pain. The wonderful thing about it was that when we visited the hospital and were taken to the visitor's room, all other visitors of patients and the patients themselves treated us as family. We were all there together in pain, in love and in understanding.

Shortly after I arrived back home again, my mother was placed in a Nursing Home. So in my mind, I pictured visions of a lovely room with all the things she loved around her. I needed to know that she was happy where she was. She was to be 80 on 4 July 1991 so I wrote her a short graphically letter to let her know that we would be driving down to see her on her birthday. I put a picture of a car, a birthday cake and a big heart in the note thinking perhaps that she may be able to understand the pictures if she couldn't understand the writing.

Our plans were made, we were to leave on the 28 of June and would arrive in plenty of time to see her on her birthday and I was so looking forward to holding her again and being with her.

On the 26th of June, my brother phoned - Mom had died that morning. At the end, my mother couldn't walk, couldn't talk and couldn't eat. - her heart stopped beating. I flew home again.

Emotions ran high. I felt hurt, anger, guilt and love. I saw my mother, this time, in a funeral home. She looked so beautiful, so at peace. Her skin was so soft and wrinkle free. All of our family had been blessed with 'younger looks' - never looked our age. And my mother, she sure didn't look that she was almost 80. I looked at her and felt again that it was so unfair - she should have lived to 100, she shouldn't have suffered like she did and she should not have died alone in a nursing home.

No one should die alone - they should know that they are loved, understood and cared for, and even though the quality and dignity of their life is taken away through no fault of their own, they should be aware that someone is there who cares and loves them, someone who doesn't judge them by their present actions, someone who looks at them as still a wonderful person, who understands their pain and frustration - someone who knows, someone who cares, someone who loves.

I didn't say goodbye to her then and I don't think I'll ever say goodbye to her. I know that the next time I fly home (probably within the year), I'll expect to see her there. Yet, even though her body is lying in a cemetery, I know she'll be at home. The memory of her will always be there - her smile, her laughter, her love. And I know that I will miss her always.

Yours truly,



Mom, this letter is going to stay in a special place -- in my heart or in a box printed out somewhere ... my life was so involved with being pregnant at the time that I didn't see even 1 tenth of what you and T were going through at the time.

Thank you so much for sharing this (even though it made me all teary-eyed at work and I had to go beg for some kleenex)

Love you lots and lots ♥ and for forever and ever



Hi M,

You're not alone,,,,anyone who reads this letter can't help but get teary eyed. Your mom was sensitively gifted to capture all the pain and emotion of that time and get it all down on paper. Thinking back, we were all so relieved to finally get our mother into the nursing home but once she got there she rapidly went downhill and lived for less than five months. Oddly enough, when she was in the hospital which was an institution for the mentally ill, she seemed to do fine probably because she was allowed more freedom to move about. The restrictions of the nursing home seemed to sap her will to live. But she lives on in our memories of happier times...
I'm sure your mother has already shared this letter with your brothers and sisters and I know the next time each of you see your Mom you'll give her an extra big hug!

Attached is an old pic of our Mom, Mary Agnes ... love, T (
my Uncle)

Mary Agnes Wojick c. 1953