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Strange Relation: A Memoir of Marriage, Dementia, and Poetry Paperback – February 15, 2011
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Praise for Rachel Hadas and Strange Relation
"Rachel Hadas's own wonderfully resonant poems, along with the rich collection of verse and prose by other writers that she weaves into her story, clarify and illuminate over and over again this thoughtful and lucid tale of love, companionship, and heartbreaking illness―illness that, as she shows us so well, is at once frighteningly alien and also deeply a part of our unavoidable vulnerability as mortal beings. Beautifully written, totally engrossing, and very sad."―Lydia Davis
"If only all doctors and nurses and social workers who care for the chronically ill could read this book. If only patients and family members stricken with such losses could receive what this book can give them. While Strange Relation relates one illness and the life of one family, it is also, poetically, about all illnesses, all families, all struggles, all living. The art achieves the dual life of the universal and the particular, marking it as timeless, making it for us all necessary."―Rita Charon, MD, PhD, Program in Narrative Medicine, Columbia University
"Strange Relation is a deeply moving, deeply personal, beautifully written exploration of how the power of grief can be met with the power of literature, and how solace can be found in the space between them."―Frank Huyler
"A poignant memoir of love, creativity and human vulnerability. Rachel Hadas brings a poet's incisive eye to the labyrinth of dementia."―Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, author of Medicine in Translation and Singular Intimacies
"Like an elegy, Strange Relation is about loss and grief. Like all elegies, it also memorializes and celebrates. Rachel Hadas, in the course of her personal narrative, cites accounts of dementia, in its social and personal meanings."―Robert Pinsky
"Brilliant and tough-minded, poignant but clear-headed, Rachel Hadas shines a steady light on her experience as the wife of an accomplished composer who, at a comparatively early age, descended into dementia. Strange Relation never sacrifices truth for easy answers. Instead, Hadas uses literature to chart a course through wrenching complexities. This lauded and exceptional poet shows how language itself, the very thing her husband loses, became her shield as she crossed the ravaged lands of decision-making, making new discoveries, new friends, and new sense of the world. Strange Relation snaps with bravery, intelligence, and Hadas' tart, candid wisdom."―Molly Peacock
"Strange Relation is a beautifully written and piercingly honest account of life with a brilliant man as he descends into dementia, in his sixties."―Reeve Lindbergh
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Rachel Hadas's memoir offers many shards of wisdom and comfort, although comfort may come only from knowing that others have suffered too, that you are not alone on this heart-breaking plain.
I wrote a short piece for someone who is facing her partner's dementia ( "My Father’s Dementia and some of the lessons I learned"). Now I will send her Hadas's book. Strange Relation offers so much -- images, rhythms, and poems that stun me with honesty and beauty.
And there are useful thoughts too. Rachel Hadas writes ". . . I hear my voice saying, 'If you don't tell people, then they cannot help you.'"
Giving telling examples of her husband's behavior, Hadas vividly depicts what a person with dementia is like. She describes how emotionally draining it was living with her husband in "empty silence," when he didn't talk to her except in a few words. She is very honest about her feelings, saying, "Slowly and insidiously your partner changes from the person you married into someone else....The structure you inhabit with this person is no longer a shared household, a cozy refuge." She says that part of mourning is trying to recover the person, if only intermittently. "It was hard for me to find an access to the vanished George, the George I had lost, in part because the new and altered George was so constantly before my eyes."
Hadas used poetry as a way of becoming aware of her feelings and expressing them. The book contains examples of her own poetry and the poetry of others that were relevant to her situation. However, people who don't care for poetry can skip those sections without losing the main thread of the book.
George Edwards is my cousin, but I have not seen him for many years. I did not have a feeling of reading about someone I knew; my interest in this book was based on the insights that it provided. People caring for someone with dementia will read it and say, Yes, that's what it's like. People who know someone with dementia will come away from it with a greater understanding of what the caretaker is going through.
Rachel Hadas traces the erosion of a good marriage due to circumstances beyond either spouse's control and how she manages to realize what is happening to her family and how to best cope with it. Intelligently written and deeply moving.