A widow details her husband’s final years—when he was in a nursing home—but also presents a sweeping view of their four decades together.
Munat first met Chuck in Chicago in 1968. He was a 34-year-old high school English instructor and father of three, soon to be divorced; the author was a 21-year-old college senior and his practice teacher at the time. “The first thing I loved about him was his bravery,” she recalls, opening with a powerful vignette of Chuck negotiating between riot police and students protesting poor conditions in black schools. Munat would need to channel that courage when Chuck’s health went downhill rapidly in 2003 following a small stroke. After three weeks in rehab, he came home, but Munat couldn’t cope with his incontinence and falls. Back he went to St. Thomas nursing home, where he remained until his death in 2009. A diagnosis of Lewy body dementia explained Chuck’s shuffling gait and occasional disorientation. LBD is characterized by “fluctuating cognition,” and the book gives vivid examples of Chuck’s “Downtime” versus “Showtime” behavior. The narrative fluidly shifts between sections about the daily challenges of caregiving and flashbacks to the couple’s earlier life together, including confronting career changes, forming a blended family, hosting exchange students, and moving to Bainbridge Island, Washington. Re-created dialogue is excellent throughout. Excerpts from journals and family newsletters enrich the text, as do frequent photographs and inventive chapter titles (“It All Began with a Pink Wastebasket”). Munat provides a clear sense of marriage as an ongoing passage, along with chronicling her separate caregiving journey: leaving their home for a condo and drawing strength from family, a “Circle Babes” support group, and short vacations. Visiting Chuck nearly every day for six years was a drain but also a labor of love. “Illness could not take away what we’d always had: an abiding love and respect for each other,” she writes. “And that kind of love does not come to an end.”
A beautiful, richly panoramic book that should reassure caregivers and delight memoir readers.