Often after our walk, I would read to Linda before getting her ready for bed. One evening, while sitting together on the sofa, and taking a break from reading, I took her hand and said: “I love you, Linda.” She looked at me and asked: “Why?” I was stunned for a moment and imagined that she might be feeling unlovable in her current condition. I don’t remember how I responded to her question, but that evening, I wrote a love letter to her which I read to her every day for the next three years. I reasoned that her short-term memory was almost gone, and I was sure that my missive would be new to her each day, and most of all would be a daily reminder of what a beautiful person she is. In November 2006, Linda and I sat together, holding hands as her doctor explaned the diagnosis. Linda’s challenges at work and at home were symptoms of young-onset of Alzheimer’s type of dementia. I was shocked by the news, but Linda was devastated. She had witnessed her mother and grandmother struggle with this disease so Linda could see into her own future and she was only sixty-one years old. During the thirteen years that followed, Linda and I became closer and more in love than ever before.
Linda moved to a professional care facility in March of 2016, but we spent time together daily holding hands and walked together every evening before sunset. During our walks, we passed by beautiful plants and flowers in the garden and with each one Linda asked: "What's that?" I would respond, "That's a dahlia." and she would reach out to gently touch the petals. "What's this?" she would ask. "This is a blueberry bush. Isn't it beautiful?" and I might give her a berry to taste. Our strolls injected emotional security and love into her days which were otherwise filled with confusion and uncertainty.
When I started reading this daily love letter to this passionate Italiana, Linda and I laughed when I got to: "I love it when you listen to me and then argue with your hands." Sometimes I would raise my hands in the air and wave them around excitedly, and we would laugh even more. Often in those early readings, I would also weep when I came to: "I love how you disarm me with aheartfelt apology when you feel you have offended me. Your sweetness of spirit and sincerity make me love you even more." I always reminded her of her reverence for God and her prayerfulness. One example is: "I am overcome with love and compassion seeing you take care of yourself in every way you can, appearing confident, staying strong and trusting in God's plan but letting me help you too." My readings always ended with this, "I love how I feel when I am with you. I feel stronger, braver, more hopeful and deeply loved."
It was more than a year after I started reading my letter to her, that I realized that I had not really answered her question when she asked to know "why" Iloved her. My letter dealt with "what" I loved about her and not so much of "why." Answering the "why" question required more thought, prayer, and reflection and I am still working on answering it. So far, the answer looks something like this: I love Linda because she is a child of God because she is my best friend because she is part of who and what I have become through our bond with each other.
Linda passed away on October 18, 2018. Thank you to Bob Brooks, Linda's husband, for sharing their beautiful story. Linda Giardina Brooks was a Virtues Project Facilitator in Federal Way, WA.