Sunday, January 23, 2011

Strange Relation

Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia, and Poetry
by Rachel Hadas
Paul Dry Books, February 2011
Trade Paperback, 240 pages
ISBN-13: 9781589880610
personal memoir
very highly recommended

In 2004 Rachel Hadas's husband, George Edwards, a composer and professor of music at Columbia University, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of sixty-one. Strange Relation is her account of "losing" George. Her narrative begins when George's illness can no longer be ignored, and ends in 2008 soon after his move to a dementia facility (when after thirty years of marriage, Hadas finds herself no longer living with her husband). Within the confines of those difficult years, years when reading and writing were an essential part of what kept her going, she "tried to keep track....tried to tell the truth."

My Thoughts:

Strange Relation by Rachel Hadas is a memoir in which Hadas shares how she managed to cope with the progression of her husband's dementia. It is an honest, achingly personal account of how she turned to literature and poetry, her most faithful companions, to help her endure her husband's deteriorating condition and the deepening silence. This is not a book full of facts on how to handle your spouse's diagnoses with dementia. It is the deeply personal account of how one woman tried to keep herself on track and tried to tell the truth about what she was feeling and experiencing.

Strange Relation is a memoir for those of you who love literature and poetry and know it can sustain you through personal trials. This is the book you would write if you carefully recording unexpected insights and deeper meanings in what you were reading while experiencing a major life crisis. Rachel Hadas also clearly shows the therapeutic benefits of your own writing and self expression. It is a book penned by a true writer - a true writer coping with a great loss.

I think many readers will note a poignant passage or gain new insight while reading, however, the really careful, poetic readers are those who can record how these new insights helped them live amid their stress, inner turmoil, and insidious silence. Rachel Hadas is one of gifted souls among us who stayed in touch with her feelings and managed to express them.

While I greatly appreciated Rachel Hadas' memoir, I must point out that those who don't necessarily enjoy poetry might not be quite as enamored of it as I am. The reflections really are very much literature/poetry based. But, on the other hand, if given a chance it could also be a great comfort to others going through similar circumstances.

Very Highly Recommended

*Disclosure: I received this copy from the publisher in a giveaway.


In early 2005, my husband, George Edwards, a composer and professor of music at Columbia University, was diagnosed with dementia. He was sixty-one years old. I was fifty-six. opening, pg vii

When George's dementia was first diagnosed, we were told that it was unclear whether he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease or frontotemporal dementia (FTD). pg. VII

Since all these diseases are at present incurable, a precise diagnosis finally doesn't matter very much. It's equally quixotic (though perfectly natural) to hope for a clear diagnoses or for a cure. pg. VIII

I wrote most of it between 2005 and 2007, years when I was living with George but in a zone of deepening silence. During those years, literature was often my most faithful companion, so this is in part a book about literature. More precisely, it's about various literature. pg. ix

...[T]hese works of literature didn't soothe or console or lull me with their beauty. On the contrary, they made me sit up and pay attention. Each in its own way, they helped me by telling me the truth, or rather a truth, about the almost overwhelming situation in which I found myself. I learned what isn't always obvious under such circumstances: I wasn't alone. pg. ix

Within the cloudy confines of those years when reading and writing were part of what kept me going, I tried to keep track; I tried to tell the truth. pg. xi

The silence was the worst. Silence not as in solitude or concentration, but as in living with, eating with, waking up next to someone who has nothing to say to you. pg. 1

Allegra Goodman writes in an essay called "Pemberley Previsited":

I think unfolding is what rereading is about. Like pleated fabric, the text reveals different parts of its pattern at different times. And yet every time the text unfolds, in the library, or in bed, or upon the grass, the reader adds new wrinkles. Memory and experience press themselves into each reading so that each encounter informs the next. pg. 31

You're married to someone; you have presumably made a commitment, and you trustingly assume a relation of lasting reciprocity with the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. But slowly and insidiously your partner changes from the person you married into someone else, someone who, while he still dwells alongside you, no longer cares about your well-being, who may in fact actively wish you ill. pg. 50

Much has been written about dementia as an insidious disease. Few writers, however, talk about the insidiousness of the way a person living alongside the disease is first blind to it and then grows used to it. pg. 115


Literary Feline said...

My grandmother suffered from dementia and so it's a topic that hits close to home. This sounds like a moving book. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, Lori.

Lori L said...

My grandmother did too, Wendy, although it was not early-age onset. As a lover of literature, I think you will really appreciate this book.

Jeanne said...

I like the comparison of rereading to unfolding.

Lori L said...

Obviously, since I included it, I really liked that quote too, Jeanne, along with the line "Memory and experience press themselves into each reading..." Isn't that the truth?

Marje S. said...

After reading the excerpts, I plan on purchasing this book as I can fully relate. My 65 year old husband has Frontotemporal dementia with Parkinson's disase. He was diagnosed when he was 63 and I was 51 and our children were 16 and 19.

Lori L said...

Marje, you will very likely appreciate Rachel Hadas's book, Strange Relations, even more than I did (and I gave it my highest recommendation). I think you will understand her experiences on an even more personal level.