Hanna and Ti Wilhelm reading Hanna's work at Carlow
Hanna and Ti Wilhelm reading Hanna's work at Carlow

A letter from Hanna to the donor who made it possible for her to continue participating in the Carlow University MFA in Creative Writing. 

Dear Donor,
Thank you for what you have made possible for me. In November of last year I started to develop symptoms. Coming from a healthy family and having been well for most of my life, the five months between symptoms and diagnosis was a black night of swimming in an anxious sea. When I was diagnosed and given two years to live with the prospect of a slow and unstoppable demise, I fell into questioning whether life was worth living. But a disease like ALS does not permit long spells of despair, because there remains a ridiculous amount of work to do to make sure you have medical coverage, the equipment you need, accessible housing, etc. I felt like this darn thing consumed me.

The call from Tess (director of the Carlow University MFA in creative writing) and the possibility of the MFA opened a much needed avenue through which life returned to me. I had been wanting the structure and support of Carlow’s MFA program, but it wasn’t financially possible for me. Being white and educated already, I didn’t feel like I deserved a scholarship—there are people who need it more than me.

So I want to thank you for what you made possible for me. Whereas this terminal illness asks me to end my career I felt so passionate about, you gave me a new beginning. Whereas this curbs my mobility, you helped me get out and travel to Ireland! Whereas this shrinks my world of engagement with others, your generosity opened a community of writers to me. Whereas this confines me to a chair, through my writing I am going to wonderful and frightening places. Whereas this can take over my life, the monthly deadlines have given me permission to prioritize and claim my creative practice. Whereas this can make me feel like deer turd and like a good-for-nothing writer, the monthly mentor meetings and feedback are building my belief that my voice is worthy of being heard. Whereas this has taken my ability to speak from me, this program is giving me voice. Whereas this illness will ultimately take my life from me, my words will remain.

Yesterday I cried, not spoons or cups, but buckets of tears. A friend asked me what I was feeling, I wrote on my board, “How would you feel if you can no longer speak and you are losing your ability to lift your limbs, chew and swallow, breathe without support or travel home to be with your family?”

He paused and said, “I’d feel afraid.”

I wrote on my board, “I am terrified.”

He held my hand. We breathed together. Then he asked, “Can I tell you what helps me when I feel afraid?” I nodded yes.

“I remember that I am loved.”

Thank you for your love that is a lifeline in this dark time. I am beyond grateful to you for choosing to invest in me, and to Tess for seeing me and introducing me to you.

I respect the fact that you are anonymous. And also, if you ever want to meet in person, please know that I would love that.

Wishing you so much wellbeing.