A debut memoir about losing a husband to cancer.
In her riveting, harrowing chronicle, British artist and writer Coutts (Fine Art/Goldsmiths Coll.) recounts three years during which her husband, Independent chief art critic Tom Lubbock, succumbed to brain cancer. Lubbock’s own reflections on his illness appeared in that publication just two months before he died in January 2011. Coutts’ story, therefore, focuses less on her husband’s experience than on her own: as caretaker, mother to their irrepressible toddler son, and intermediary with friends, family, nurses, and doctors. Her immediate reactions were shock and fear. “We discover, or rather I do,” she writes, “that you cannot hold a state of fear for an extended time. Fear is a peak, not a plateau. Shock is a drug and at first it feels pure and elevated, yes. The unreal keeps all exalted.” But that exaltation quickly dissipated, and Coutts was left feeling exhausted, overwhelmed, and, as time went on, angry. As Tom underwent two surgeries and repeated chemotherapy and radiation, she strove to make “an intellectual accommodation with death.” In emails to their many friends, which punctuate this poignant memoir, the couple admitted that the illness “affected us differently. It’s been a lot of strain for Marion, less so in some ways for Tom.” However, Tom’s upbeat personality only masked his obsession; he told Marion that he thought about his cancer all the time, “though,” she remarks, “you would never know it.” Tom eventually became physically weak, his mobility was compromised, he contracted pneumonia repeatedly, and convulsions recurred. Because the tumor was in the area of speech and language, it soon affected his ability to write and to communicate, and Coutts added to her tasks the frustrating job of interpreter. In the last months, when he was in pain, she could only guess “at its extent and urgency and guess what we can do to alleviate it.”
A poetic and moving chronicle of loss.