Elaine Sanchez, author of the book: Letters from Madelyn Chronicles of a Caregiver talks with me about her mom Madelyn powerful and bubbly caregiver and this role sometimes not always pleasant but so indispensable for families
Elaine Sanchez is the author of Letters from Madelyn - Chronicles of a Caregiver.
The story is about Madelyn’s experience of caring for her husband, Quentin, after he suffered a stroke on October 30, 1993.
During this long time, in order to de-stress herself, Madelyn wrote letters to her daughter Elaine about her life with Quentin.
The final result is a journal of seven beautifully detailed years, in which Madelyn described every possible little or big fact of her life. She wrote about neighbors, her flowers and garden, Quentin's condition, church activities, as well as the books she loved to read and her thoughts about life.
The final result is wonderfully touching.
Elaine's husband saved the letters in a cardboard moving box naming it: "Letters from Madelyn".
On Mother’s Day 2002, Elaine’s priest asked her to talk to them about mother-daughter relationships.
Elaine thought that the best thing to do was to read some passages of Madelyn's letters telling also some anecdotes of her mom.
People astonished by the beauty of this letter suggested her: "Why don't you write a book with these letters?"
Elaine published the first edition of Letters from Madelyn in 2007. It was immediately a big success. I read the second edition, published on May 2016.
Elaine wrote me a beautiful email immediately after she read my review on Netgalley.com, and she proposed an interview.
When I checked my e-mail and I read Elaine Sanchez I was so surprised. It seemed like to live in a dream. I had just finished to read and review a book where "Dear Elaine" and later "Dear Elaine and Alex" (Elaine's husband) the words most used by that hurricane of lady that was Madelyn, Elaine's mother and now Elaine was writing to me. Surreal.
It was a great joy to talk to her on the phone.
I called Elaine at 4:30 pm on a busy Italian afternoon, plenty of people at home. In Oregon where Elaine lives was 7:30 am and for what she told me it was a tranquil morning . We chatted for a hour and half.
Thanks to Madelyn's letters, I now feel like Elaine and Alex are friends.
Elaine asked me where we wanted to start our conversation with and I replied: Let’s start with Madelyn of course.
“My parents lived on a dairy farm. Mom hated everything about it, but she loved my father, and she had four kids to raise, so when she was in her mid-thirties, she learned how to find her own happiness from within."
Many of these letters are incredibly funny, but when I asked Elaine about her mother’s great sense of humor she admits:
"None of us are really sure if she was trying to be funny, or if we laughed because her letters were so honest and true."
Intentional or not, one thing is for sure, tells me Elaine: "Madelyn was funny, truly funny. " Ad she was in grade to read reality under a funny perspective. It helps a lot.
Elaine and her mother developed a big friendship. They have always been very closed.
"I’m not sure. It could be because there weren’t other girls of my same age close to me. But I suspect it had more to do with the fact that she was just a wonderful mother!"
Elaine explains that when she attended the little small country school of her town with her elderly brothers in her classroom just 8 children (20 in total in the entire school) there was just another girl in her classroom, all the rest males. That little girl lived at just two miles of distance from her house. Elaine was alone at that time and her exclusive relationship with her mom more than understandable.
In the while Madelyn in the early 1960s got a job in the town.
"She was a New Age thinker" says Elaine. "These two things made her an oddity in the conservative farming community where she and Quentin, my dad, lived. She was certainly different from the rest of women in this traditional area. She thought differently. She read different types of books. Her faith was different, and even though she did not enjoy her physical life, she believed she had the power to choose a positive attitude, finding joy and happiness from within."
What kind of memories do you treasure the most of your mom?
"She was such an interesting and intelligent woman. From the time I was little, she was teaching me to think positively. I loved going to the milk barn and listening to her stories. She would always encourage me to try new things. She was constantly telling me:
You can be anything you want to be.
You can do anything you want to do when you grow up.
You are only limited by your own imagination and determination.
Elaine tells a wonderful anecdote of her mom and her
"When I grew up and I had children of my own, I treasured any one-on-one time we could spend together. When I returned home for a visit and all our men and kids to bed, we loved to take blankets and go outside. Wrapped up, warm and cozy we loved to talk all the night.”
How do you think your mother would feel about you sharing her letters?
"She knew I was saving her letters, and about five years into her caregiving experience, she wrote and said:
"I wish I had been keeping a caregiving journal all of these years. It would be interesting to see how I have grown and changed mentally and spiritually. I also think my experiences could help others who are in a similar situation."
And now, I think she would be thrilled to know that her letters really are helping others, and she would be amazed that a woman in Italy had read her letters and thought she was a fabulous lady!"
Elaine continues: "Writing letters helped her cope with her emotional and physical challenges. She wrote because phone calls at that time very expensive, and she was hard of hearing. Writing helped relieve her stress and communicate more clearly. I saved her letters because I knew she wasn’t going to live long, and I knew that as long as I had her letters, she would never be totally gone."
With great pleasure Elaine speaks also of caregiverhelp.com, the website she and her husband developed to help caregivers like her mother cope with their anger, guilt, depression, and grief.
“There are so many things that contribute to stress a caregiver, including what I call: The three F’s of Flipping Out––Fear, Frustration, and Fatigue. And there is a tremendous amount of grief associated with the gradual physical and cognitive loss a person experiences with progressive and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s."
Elaine tells grief is another component that makes caregiving difficult:
"As a caregiver, you grieve the loss of the life you once had. You grieve the loss of the life you thought you were going to have at this stage. You grieve the loss of your freedom, and you grieve the losses that are still to come."
Elaine became a speaker in 2007, thanks to the success of Letters from Madelyn -Chronicles of a Caregiver. When she talks at caregiving and conferences across the US, she helps family and professional caregivers to develop what she calls an "Attitude of creative indifference" toward the emotional stress of caregiving.
The Three Steps Are:
1- Become AWARE of the situations that are causing you the greatest amount of stress.
2 - ACCEPT You will not always feel as loving, kind, and generous as you would like to feel.
3 - ACT Determine which things you can fix, change, or control. If there is a problem that has a solution, make a plan and follow it. It you cannot do anything about the problem, try to stay tranquil.
When I asked Elaine why her mother wanted to keep Quentin at home rather than have him admitted to a nursing home, tells:
"If Mom would have put dad in a nursing home, she would have had to sell our farm ground to pay for his care. She would have lost all of her future income, and it might have taken all of their money to pay for his care. She could have been left without any resources.”
The book, Letters from Madelyn - Chronicles of a Caregiver is a wonderfully honest book, and it is often very funny. People who are or have been caregivers understand that they are not alone, and that experiencing negative emotions doesn’t make them bad people. People read the book repeats often to Elaine: “Madelyn gives me permission to be human.”
Elaine wants to share with all of us also some links.
First of all the one of her website:
where a caregiver can find all the possible informations and interact with Elaine.
Then...Watch this video!
It's about dementia and sexuality in elderly people affected by some illness. Truly funny and real.
This video about grief:
The book: Letters from Madelyn - Chronicles of a Caregiver is a loving tribute from a daughter to her mother that will leave you encouraged, inspired, and uplifted.
Anna Maria Polidori