A devoted husband bears witness to his wife’s final illness.
Retired Simon & Schuster editor-in-chief Korda (Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat Into Victory, 2017, etc.) offers a sensitive and absorbing chronicle of his wife’s death from cancer a year after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Joining a growing genre about death and dying that includes Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die and Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Korda’s memoir is both a celebration of his 45-year marriage to his “lover, companion, and best friend” and a cleareyed account of the benefits and limits of medical intervention. Until she was stricken with brain cancer, Margaret Korda seemed invulnerable: a strong, athletic woman who loved the outdoors, rode horses competitively to win five national championships, and, even at the age of 79, retained the beauty and “perfect posture of the fashion model she once had been.” Yet although she was remarkably healthy, the author discloses that she took an assortment of medications to treat depression and anxiety. “She was a perfectionist,” he writes, “hard on herself, she worried about aging, losing her looks, what she would do with herself if she had to give up riding.” Her fears made her wary of doctors, which is why, when she noticed a patch on her cheek, she covered it with makeup rather than have it removed and biopsied. By the time she agreed to remove it, the cancer had begun to spread. After the diagnosis of her brain tumor, Korda took it upon himself to find out as much as he could about the illness and treatment, devouring cancer sites on the internet and parsing medical information, hoping it would help him support Margaret’s treatment. Despite finding an excellent, caring neurosurgeon, the author “struggled with alarm and despondency as I read about what lay in store for Margaret.” He chronicles in detail her yearlong experience of surgeries, therapy, decline, and decision-making as the two learned the extent of her illness and, finally, abandoned “hope, illusions, [and] faith in miracles.”
A compassionate chronicle of a couple's last year.