Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Emotional Reader

            After finishing "The Rent Collector" by Cameron Wright, I started "Letters for Emily", by the same author.

     While I did not care for the story itself, I did enjoy the message of the letters and the profound metaphors, and even some of the poems that a character in the story leaves as clues for his granddaughter. There is a lot of wisdom given in his advice.  I even found interest in the entire "puzzles" concept - that is a bunch of poems that each contain a password. 

     The characters names are Harry, Laura, Emily, Cara, Bob, Michelle and Greg.  I've formed an opinion on just about each of them which may have damaged my relationship with them.  For much of my attitude (toward the characters themselves) was somewhat cynical.

     The first chapter is written in first person.  We are introduced to Harry - who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.  Except for his letters, the rest of the book is written in third person.

     Every Friday after school, Laura takes her seven-year-old daughter, Emily, to see her grandpa, Harry.  Cara is the aide who comes to check on Harry and provides a breakfast and lunch.  I was wondering why not all day. 

     Someone had once explained to me that dementia is like a wheel with several spokes - each spoke is a different dimension of dementia.  Alzheimer's is just one spoke of the dementia wheel.  Thus everybody who has Alzheimer's has some form of dementia, but not everyone who has dementia has Alzheimer's. My mom didn't have Alzheimer's but another form of dementia.  There were times that she was alone, but after we noticed mom's mind was being robbed by the disease, we made it a point to always have someone with her.  It was danger to her to leave her alone.  Who looked after Harry when Cara or Laura weren't there?

     I like Cara - though not a main character.  She has a way with people to accept them and make them feel comfortable.  She doesn't put up with nonsense.  She really does care for Harry and wants what's best for him.

     Laura's a bit insecure in her relationship with Bob, and he seems uninterested in permanent commitments as he seems to have given up on Laura and tolerates his father (Harry) at best.  I don't believe he's taken the time to get to know either one of them.

     Michelle is Bob's sister and Greg is her husband.  Greg is portrayed as a jerk who is far more interested in material possessions than he is in the human race or relations.  It's interesting to watch each of these characters as they to work together - or at least pretend to - as they read through Harry's poems and letters. 

     Harry has left a book of poems (well three books, duplicated, but identical in context and appearance) which contain password for opening each letter.  Though some of the poems are silly, some of them seem profound and thoughtful. 

     I was intrigued by a love poem he had written to Kathryn from Harry.  It was tender.  And the result of the password was intriguing:  "Believe in Love at First Sight." Wow.  What a wrap-up to such a tender poem. And his letters are filled with instructions on how to live - not just for Emily, but for each of us.

     It doesn't take much to get me to cry.  I will often I will allow my emotions to break through while reading or watching some movies.  During a few of these times, whenever Roland has happened to see my tear-stained face, has asked me what's wrong.  For this particular book, it's mostly been triggers.

     First off, the tragedy of having to look at assisted living facilities brought some emotions to the surface.  Those emotions will always be there.  It's a tough thing to have to find a place for a parent who cannot care for self.  It's a tough thing to settle for affordable than to place her where one month worth of paychecks wouldn't even keep her in for a week. 

     I remember looking at one thinking, "my mom will never fit in.  She is not old like these people.  They are ancient relics - not a one is even close to her age. We will all feel like we're just leaving her here to die, and that is NOT what we're doing.  The facility that Corey and I liked the best was really inviting.  At the time we saw it, I would have liked to move in.  It was nice.  It was also out of our price range.  BY A LOT!!!

     I do remember a worker showing us around, and what a positive atmosphere was provided.  She had invited us to eat lunch, though we declined.  She said the patients always had a choice for dinner.  I remember she told us there was one patient who always asked what was on the menu.  She asked each day without fail.  And then she would politely say, "Oh, I think I'll just have a grilled cheese sandwich"

     She also told us about another patient who would dress up every morning, find a work desk, sit down and work for a few hours before moving on.  She said no one really knew what he was doing, but it was always a part of his routine.  I thought of that while reading this book as the family members would read various letters and wonder when he found the time to write them or how he was able to remember.

     Some of the letters themselves would cause triggers as his one about "angels".  In the letter he told the story of his late wife who was a streamstress with a generous heart who had made a dress for a girl who couldn't afford to pay her.  And although it was "just a dress" to Kathryn (Harry's late wife) it meant all the world to Andrea (the girl she had made it for) -  I was reminded of a Christmas when I received a sack of potatoes that I'm certain the giver thought of as "just potatoes" but I still cry over the memory of receiving them and how truly blessed I was to have them.  (see this post) 

     Perhaps it was through this book that I decided to send a letter to a cousin who is getting married.  He was in the fifth grade when his mom passed.  He didn't really get to know her - not the way I had known her.  She was diagnosed with MS when she was pregnant with him.  He never knew her prior to the disease.  I don't know what memories he has of her.  Sometimes reading words about someone gone helps others to have a better understanding and deeper appreciation.  At least it has for me.

     One letter tells about how he had made soufflé and one day he found a recipe for pudding.  Both recipes contained the same ingredients.  I loved the comparison:  "Life is very much like gourmet cooking.  The ingredients we are given are often the same as those that others receive.  It is how the ingredients are put together  - the detail, the time and presentation."  I'm probably more of a pudding person.  Often I carelessly throw the ingredients of life together and hope things work out. Roland is an eternal optimist.  He makes soufflé.

       At the end of the book is a loving tribute from the author to his grandfather as there is a small collection of  poems that his grandfather wrote.  

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