Is it possible for beauty to exist alongside realities as distressing as dementia and as dreadful as death? Is it possible to write about such realities in a way that is both devastating and encouraging, that is both shatteringly sorrowful and heartbreakingly beautiful? Karen Martin’s Memorable Loss: A Story of Friendship in the Face of Dementia answers with a resounding yes.
Karen Martin’s friendship with Kathleen was perhaps a bit unconventional, not least because they were separated in age by several decades. Yet after meeting through the local church, they became fast friends. Kathleen served as a kind of mentor and confidante, but, as is true in the best of friendships, Karen reciprocated despite her relative youth. Their love and friendship grew through many years and many shared experiences.
Eventually, though, Karen began to notice some changes in Kathleen. She became less comfortable in social settings, less confident in making decisions, and more easily confused. And then came the diagnosis of that most dreaded of diseases: Alzheimer’s. Kathleen had never married and was thus without children to care for her. And so Karen and a couple of Kathleen’s nephews took on the responsibility of helping her through her illness and guiding her through her diminishing abilities.
Alzheimer’s is both progressive and terminal. While Kathleen was at first able to care for herself, the time came when the disease progressed so far that she needed to be placed in a care home. She lived here in relative contentment until the end finally came.
Memorable Loss is Karen’s account of the days from immediately prior to Kathleen’s diagnosis all the way to her passing. It explains Alzheimer’s and dementia and shows how though they necessarily reduce the patient’s capacities, they do not reduce her personhood. It tells of some of the trials that caretakers must endure and some of the agonizing decisions they need to make on behalf of the one they love. And it does all of this through the highest quality of prose.
Martin tells not only of the tragedy of disease and death but of the beauty of the faith and friendship that bound the two women together. It’s an achingly beautiful account that leaves the reader groaning with the sorrow of this world but rejoicing in its delights and longing for the day when death and mourning, when crying and pain, will have passed away. I simply can’t recommend it too highly.