When the pandemic hit last spring and the hunkering down began, Peter and Bonnie Brenner decided to make lemons out of lemonade. Peter had retired from a 40-year career in the ministry, including two decades as a Navy chaplain, and Bonnie knew that there were boxes of his professional material stored in their basement.
Bonnie also knew that Peter, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2013, would now not have access to the care provided by the Day Center at the Orleans Council on Aging. She needed to find a way to keep him interested.
Their solution to that challenge resulted in the recently published book, “Prayers for the Essence of Spiritual Life,” a collection of 70 of Peter's prayers organized into six chapters reflecting the changing seasons and life's milestones.
On Sunday Dec. 6, at 2 p.m., the Alzheimer's Family Support Center will host a virtual book launch and conversation with Peter. He will read some of his prayers and along with Bonnie will talk about how the project came to life. Advance copies of the book can be purchased at www.prkbrenner.com.
All proceeds from the sale of the book will fund support services from the center, which provides an array of free evidence-based services for families and individuals living with Alzheimer's. The event is open to the public at no charge, though registration is required. To sign up, email email@example.com or call 508-896-5170.
As they went through the boxes in the basement, which included sermons and prayers, Bonnie and Peter decided that maybe their kids and grandkids might be interested in a collection of his prayers.
"The sermons were too long and we were able to narrow the prayers down to 70," Bonnie said. The prayers were handwritten, so as Peter read them aloud, Bonnie transcribed them. "Peter would read the prayers to me and sometimes paused, saying 'I could say that better' so he edited some on the spot."
Bonnie and Peter celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June, so the book became a kind of celebration of that as well. The Brenners met in Yosemite National Park when they were both working for the Christian Ministry in National Parks.
"It was a beautiful place to fall in love," Bonnie said. When Peter decided he wanted a photo of Half Dome in Yosemite on the cover of this book, it seemed like a natural choice. "I thought it represented something beautiful and also long lasting," he said.
As they assembled the prayers, Bonnie reached out to graphic designer Marie Williams of Watermark Graphic Design in Chatham to edit and design the book. The Brenners began to think that others might appreciate the soft bound volume as well.
The decision to donate all proceeds to the support center was easy, Bonnie said. "The Alzheimer's Support Center had given so much, we just wanted to give back to them."
For more than six years, the Brenners have benefited from the services of the Alzheimer's Family Support Center, including group activities for those with Alzheimer’s and their family members, potlucks and now Zoom activities.
"All of their services are free," Bonnie said. "I can't say enough about the good that they do. Donating the proceeds from the prayer book is a small way to let others know about the center and to financially support it."
The website www.prkbrenner.com was designed by the Brenner's son, Tim. In addition to “Prayers for the Essence of Spiritual Life,” Peter's earlier memoir, “Behind the Smile: Orphaned by Hitler's Madness,” is also available for sale on the site.