NPR host Rehm (Life with Maxie, 2010, etc.) reflects on loneliness, loss, and aging.
“For fifty-four years I have been a wife,” Rehm writes in a memoir more notable for candor than artfulness. “Now I am widow. Am I someone new?” In the mid-2000s, her husband, John, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, marking a profound change in their lives. As he gradually succumbed to the illness, the author found herself increasingly alone: the couple slept in separate bedrooms because of John’s involuntary thrashing, and in 2012, he moved into an assisted living facility because he needed 24-hour care. Despondent over his condition, he begged for help to end his life. “We had promised that we would do everything we could to support each other’s wishes in the face of debilitating and unalterable conditions,” Rehm writes. But she was helpless, as were John’s physicians. Making his own decision, John refused food, water, or medicines, and after 10 days, “surely the longest of my life,” the author admits, he died. Rehm was beset by guilt, worrying that she should have given up her career to care for John during the final year of his life. As she looks back at their sometimes-rocky marriage, she blames herself for not being passive or submissive enough to please a man who wanted to dominate. The author is often overcome by grief, not only for John, but “for our youth, for our love, for our happiness.” Widowhood is not the only identity change that Rehm has faced. She wonders who she will be once she retires and how, beginning her eighth decade, she can continue as “a fully engaged human being.”
The prose reads like journal entries or letters to readers, punctuated by sometimes-trite remarks: “Death is the ultimate finality,” she writes. “There is no turning back.” Nevertheless, her perspectives on old age are brave and uplifting.