The Story behind A Letter To Myself

In 2003 my mother passed away at the age of 82. There's a fancy medical term on her death certificate, but the real cause of death was simply that she was tired and worn out.

Some years prior to her death, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. His driving, never the best, naturally became worse, and he occasionally got lost in the city he'd lived in for 40 years. His knees had begun to weaken, and he had fallen several times, though never seriously injuring himself. Deafness, exacerbated by an industrial accident, made communication a challenge.

My mom took care of him during his steady, and yet inevitable decline. She became his seven day a week, round-the-clock, primary caregiver.

As their only child I helped as I could, and as they would let me. Immigrants, they were fiercely independent, and asking others for help was simply not in their vocabulary. They were both used to doing for themselves, and so it would be. My father typically refused to accept that his capacities were diminishing, and as such continue to do more than he could safely do. My mother, frustrated, could not bring herself to ask for help, or take more serious steps.

In the year before her death, I finally convinced my mother to at least take an afternoon off once a week ... we found a caregiver to spend the afternoon with my father, and my mother and I would have lunch, see a movie, or just spend the afternoon at my home. I began to hear even more of my father's now occasional incontinence, or my mother's sleepless nights as she heard him get up and she waited for him to fall and injure himself.

She understood Alzheimer's, and even had a plan ... she would wait until he no longer recognized her, and then consider other living arrangements. "He didn't ask for this" she once told me. What she didn't understand was the toll it was taking on her. In the race between her health and his memory, ironically and against all expectations, she lost.

She'd been having health issues for some time that manifested seriously in late November of 2002. In December we moved my father to an assisted living facility, but it was too late. Her illness became acute, emergency surgery followed, then a fall resulting in more surgery. While all indications were that she should recover, her health continued to inexplicably decline. Her words to the contrary, it was as if she had given up. On May 4, 2003 she passed away.

As the events I've just described unfolded, my wife and I were occasionally very frustrated. What was happening was very sad, because simply, "it didn't have to be that way."

One day I joked to my wife that I should write a letter to myself, reminding me of the circumstances surrounding my mother's death, and give it her should I ever fail to accept reason as my parents had. She didn't laugh. As I thought about it, it became clear that this was a simple, yet serious investment in our future together.

I don't know if we'll ever need the letter. And if it is used, I don't know if I'll remember or accept it. I certainly hope that I will. It is a tool that could someday make a big difference in my life, and perhaps more importantly, the lives of the people I love.

Consider writing a letter to yourself.




A Letter To Myself is Copyright 2004 by Leo A. Notenboom.
All rights are reserved, however permission is granted to use the example letter as a template or starting point for your own letter to yourself. This website may not be otherwise copied or reproduced without prior written permission. Contact leo (at) notenboom.org for more information.