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The Stranger in my Recliner: An intimate look at the homelessness and mental health crisis by Doreen McGettigan

The Stranger in my Recliner: An intimate look at the homelessness and mental health crisis

by Doreen McGettigan

246 pages
The true story of a couple that took in and cared for an eighty-year-old homeless woman named Sophie, for nearly three years.

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Category: Biography
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About the Book
He gently helped her back up onto her feet and then picked up what he thought was her grocery bags. After giving her a quick look over and insuring she had no injuries he insisted on giving her a ride home.

After asking her numerous times for her address and struggling not to get frustrated with her, Sophie finally admitted to him, she had no home to go to and nowhere to stay.

John called me to ask if he could bring a woman home for the night. Not exactly the thing you expect your husband to call and request.

When Sophie walked through my front door that night I could not believe my eyes. She was a frail, filthy, and hunched over, eighty–year–old woman.

I made her a hot cup of tea and then went upstairs and prepared her a warm bubble bath. I gave her my favorite silk pajamas, clean underwear, a warm fluffy pair of socks, and a thick robe.

What possibly could have happened to her, what sin or crime did she commit that left her no choice in the world but to trust strangers over family or friends? Imagining what in the world those possible sins and crimes were, scared me to my core.

My husband on the other hand is trusting to a frustrating fault. I admire his compassion and knew in my heart that keeping her safe and warm on that cold, wet night was the right thing to do no matter how she came to be in this situation. I could not help wondering why I had to be the one to do that particular right thing on that particular night.

I just kept saying to myself, no worries, she will only be with us until we can find a good home for her. I believed one of her relatives would show up and claim her. They would knock on our front door and tell us they had been searching for her and they could not thank us enough for taking care of her.

Sophie’s story is one of jealous, vindictive siblings, an abusive husband, and a sexual assault that resulted in a pregnancy, a kidnapping, and bitter, unforgiving children. She was attacked by several younger homeless people and an Elvis impersonator's girlfriend. She was left out in the cold by a deceiving judge who convinced her to care for his dying wife while he cheated on her and then by a group of lost souls that she devoted her life to serving.

As much as I felt we were getting to know Sophie and it was starting to feel like she was just another one of our ‘crazy’ relatives there was still so much that we didn’t know about her. After more than two years how was it possible that she was still very much the stranger in our recliner?


Doreen McGettigan is a Good Samaritan in every sense of the word. She not only helped the elderly homeless woman, Sophie, but she also housed her, clothed her, fed her, and saw to her every need. It was not always easy, and McGetttigan tells the truth about her fear and sometimes disgust. Yet, she grew to love Sophie and mourns her loss. McGettigan’s simple question, “What would you do?” challenges us to not only look at the homeless as our brothers and sisters but to take action to relieve their suffering
- Adela Crandell Durkee
The intricate narrative of how a homeless stranger came to be a roommate, how it affected their lives, and how it set the author on her own journey of discovery, give the reader an intimate look at the face of aging, families and, of course, the worst case scenario. Fully researched yet personally poignant, “The Stranger in My Recliner” opens your heart to one woman’s descent into homelessness and the complicated spiral of services that failed. In the end, it’s evident that the state of mental health services sometimes leaves only two options for caregivers and their struggling family members: wash their hands of it or live with them tied. The red tape surrounding services for mental illness can also prevent those afflicted from getting effective help, even when the best intentions at heart. The author makes it evident that for every person on the street with no where to call home, there’s a story. I commend her for taking responsibility. It was the ultimate act of kindness. Great story!
- Cindy Falteich
I’d been taught to treat people the way God said we should but I’d never known anyone who took those words as literally as Doreen and John. An elderly stranger, mentally unstable, sometimes incontinent, sometimes mean-spirited, and at times destructive takes up residence in their recliner. Yet, Doreen made her feel welcome in her own home. It started with her love and loyalty to her husband, John, who knew Sophie first. I saw, in this book, more than simply a kind deed done for an old lady. I saw what selfless people can do to make the life of one person better. It was difficult for Doreen, as she was the main caregiver for Sophie, but she never gave up. The mental health system and elderly assistance make it impossible to find the resources desperately needed for so many homeless on the streets. I believe that Doreen opened the eyes of the government agencies that she dealt with. The woman is a bulldog when she is on a mission! Sophie’s story could be anyone’s story if changes aren’t made to accommodate those living from one paycheck to the next, or unable to work due to health or age. The Stranger In My Recliner is an excellent example of kindness, selflessness, perseverance, loyalty, and just doing the right thing.
- Beth Firce


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About the Author
Doreen McGettigan Doreen started her writing career as a feature writer for newspapers. She is a ghostwriter, speaker, author, and award-winning blogger.

She is on the board of Family Promise, a national organization supporting homeless families with the goal of permanent, sustainable housing, and on the board of Fem City Philadelphia.



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