Check the Mail for Her Letter

Obscuring the border between reality and illusion, visual artist Amy Parrish expresses her grief through original work after the loss of a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease.
Amy Parrish artwork

When it comes to mourning and grief after the death of a loved one, Alzheimer’s disease can pose unique challenges. For visual artist Amy Parrish, who was living thousands of miles from home when her grandmother Mary Jane passed on, mourning that loss became an act of artistic creation and took on a life of its own.

She began printing old photographs of her grandmother’s life and applying gouache and white wax pencil to them. She often obscured faces, body parts and other details — at times inviting the viewer to focus on a specific gesture or to wonder what was lost.


“I like to highlight that gray area between reality and illusion,” Parrish says. “And to some degree to preserve the anonymity of my grandmother’s dementia journey.”

One of the first photos she discovered was of her grandfather and grandmother in a tender moment, with him gently touching her arm. Parrish obscures the rest of the image but the arm remains, “I wondered if, despite her dementia, could she still remember the way that she had been loved?”

The project’s title, Check The Mail For Her Letter, comes from a memorable moment Parrish had with her grandmother. “The last time I saw her, she was having a delusion,” she told Dementia Spring, “She thought I was my aunt, and she insisted we go to the old farmhouse – which hadn’t been in our family for years – and check the mail together.”

After returning from overseas, Parrish had a dream in which her grandmother was communicating with her through a photograph.  The next morning she penned a letter to her grandmother, but never sent it off; her grandmother died shortly after.

“I just wished I had mailed her that letter,” she said.

For more information about Parrish’s work check out her website here.

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The Dementia Arts Spotlight promotes visual and performing artists who are grappling with dementia through original work or innovative arts programs. The Spotlight—in a Q&A format where artists describe the details and significance of their work or program—connects each artist to the Dementia Spring community. Find examples of prior Dementia Arts Spotlights here. Know of an artist whose work should be Spotlighted? Send them this link!

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