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On My Own

Cover of On My Own

On My Own

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In a deeply personal and moving book, the beloved NPR radio host speaks out about the long drawn-out death (from Parkinson's) of her husband of fifty-four years, and of her struggle to reconstruct her life without him.
With John gone, Diane was indeed "on her own," coping with the inevitable practical issues and, more important, with the profoundly emotional ones. What to do, how to react, reaching out again into the world—struggling to create a new reality for herself while clinging to memories of the past. Her focus is on her own roller-coaster experiences, but she has also solicited the moving stories of such recently widowed friends as Roger Mudd and Susan Stamberg, which work to expose the reader to a remarkable range of reactions to the death of a spouse.
John's unnecessarily extended death—he begged to be helped to die—culminated in his taking matters into his own hands, simply refusing to take water, food, and medication. His heroic actions spurred Diane into becoming a kind of poster person for the "right to die" movement that is all too slowly taking shape in our country. With the brave determination that has characterized her whole life, she is finding a meaningful new way to contribute to the world.
Her book—as practical as it is inspiring—will be a help and a comfort to the recently bereaved, and a beacon of hope about the possibilities that remain to us as we deal with our own approaching mortality.
In a deeply personal and moving book, the beloved NPR radio host speaks out about the long drawn-out death (from Parkinson's) of her husband of fifty-four years, and of her struggle to reconstruct her life without him.
With John gone, Diane was indeed "on her own," coping with the inevitable practical issues and, more important, with the profoundly emotional ones. What to do, how to react, reaching out again into the world—struggling to create a new reality for herself while clinging to memories of the past. Her focus is on her own roller-coaster experiences, but she has also solicited the moving stories of such recently widowed friends as Roger Mudd and Susan Stamberg, which work to expose the reader to a remarkable range of reactions to the death of a spouse.
John's unnecessarily extended death—he begged to be helped to die—culminated in his taking matters into his own hands, simply refusing to take water, food, and medication. His heroic actions spurred Diane into becoming a kind of poster person for the "right to die" movement that is all too slowly taking shape in our country. With the brave determination that has characterized her whole life, she is finding a meaningful new way to contribute to the world.
Her book—as practical as it is inspiring—will be a help and a comfort to the recently bereaved, and a beacon of hope about the possibilities that remain to us as we deal with our own approaching mortality.
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  • From the cover On June 14, 2014, my husband, John Rehm—age eighty-three—began his withdrawal from life. The aides at Brighton Gardens were instructed to stop bringing medications, menus, or water. His decision to die came after a long and difficult conversation the day before with Dr. Roy Fried, his primary physician; our son, David; our daughter, Jennifer, who was on the phone from Boston; and me.

    John declared to Dr. Fried that because Parkinson's disease had so affected him that he no longer had the use of his hands, arms, or legs, because he could no longer stand, walk, eat, bathe, or in any way care for himself on his own, he was now ready to die. He said that he understood the disease was progressing, taking him further and further into incapacity, with no hope of improvement. Therefore, he wanted to end his life.

    Clearly, his expectation—and his misunderstanding—was that, now that he had made his decision, he could simply be "put to sleep" immediately, with medication. When Dr. Fried explained that he was unable to carry out John's wishes, that he was prohibited from committing such an act in the state of Maryland, John became very angry. He said, "I feel betrayed." Tears came into his eyes, tears of frustration and disappointment. Here was a man who had lived his life able, for the most part, to take charge of events, to be certain that his well-considered decisions would be carried out. And now he was making the ultimate decision, and having it thwarted.

    It was then that Dr. Fried explained that the only alternative John had, if he truly wished to die, was to stop eating, drinking fluids, or taking medications. In other words, he could bring his life to an end through those means, but no one could do it for him. Dr. Fried added that he hoped John would not make the decision to end his life, but that, if he did so, as his physician he would honor it.

    My husband had moved into assisted living at Brighton Gardens in Chevy Chase, Maryland, in November 2012, because he could no longer stand or walk without falling, or care for himself without assistance. We'd spent months talking about the decision we both knew was coming. We went over and over various possibilities, such as having someone move into our apartment to care for him on a twenty-four-hour basis, but we knew that wouldn't work: there was simply not enough room for another human to be here full-time.

    Most days I spent part of the afternoon with John at Brighton Gardens. Sometimes we'd sit silently, particularly in the weeks immediately after he moved in. Although he never admitted feeling resentful, it was clear he was unhappy. He had a private room, but was now in an institution, in the company of strangers, eating foods he didn't care for in a large communal dining room, and feeling an extreme loss of privacy. But slowly he regained his sense of humor, his interest in world events, and his happiness each time I walked through the door.

    Over the years, John and I had talked many times about how we wanted to die. We had promised that we would do everything we could to support each other's wishes in the face of debilitating and unalterable conditions. Yet here I was, helpless to keep my promise. I could do nothing but listen as he railed against a medical and judicial system that prohibited a doctor from helping him die, even knowing that what awaited him was prolonged misery, further decline, and, to his mind, loss of dignity.

    So John did what I dreaded, but knew in my heart he would do: he declared he would stop eating, drinking, or taking medications. He asked Dr. Fried how long the process of dying would...
About the Author-
  • DIANE REHM has hosted The Diane Rehm Show on WAMU 88.5 FM in Washington, D.C.—distributed by NPR—since 1979; the show has a weekly listening audience of two and a half million. Currently, it is broadcast on nearly two hundred stations and Sirius Satellite Radio across the country, as well as internationally by Armed Forces Radio Network. She lives in Washington, D.C.
    www.thedianerehmshow.org
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine The popular NPR talk show host discusses her experiences as her husband waged a lengthy battle against Parkinson's disease. She also addresses her political advocacy for the right to a dignified medically induced death. Rehm's narration, while heartfelt, is strained at times, due to her speech impediment, spasmodic dysphonia. Some listeners may feel that the hiring of an accomplished narrator may well have improved their listening experience. On the other hand, those who enjoy Rehm's popular radio show may more fully appreciate her reminiscences and commentary, which include her successful life transitions following her husband's passing. W.A.G. © AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 14, 2015
    Rehm (Finding My Voice), a popular National Public Radio host and author, has dedicated this heartfelt memoir to her husband, the late John Rehm, and the book speaks powerfully to those who have lost a loved one and found the strength to carry on. Rehm describes her 54-year marriage to John, a successful attorney, in honest terms. She was clearly in love with him and in awe of him, but she also admits that the marriage was not perfect. At times, her husband withdrew into silence, and the couple considered divorce. On the whole, as Rehm describes, the union was one in which love and mutual encouragement played significant parts. She writes that after her spouse was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and began to slowly decline in health, they grew even closer; she crawled into his hospital bed to tenderly read him poetry. Eventually John was severely disabled, angered and disheartened by a system that disallowed physician-assisted death in such cases, and he made the decision to end his life by refusing sustenance. Rehm is now closing in on 80, and nearing her retirement from radio. The seasoned broadcaster explores the many changes and challenges that come when a spouse dies; she shares feelings of guilt, loneliness, fear, and worry as well as acknowledging her strengths and newfound independence. Rehm’s forthright memoir, which probes the process of loss, grief, and renewal, will find a wide audience with fans of her show as well as many others facing this profound passage.

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On My Own
On My Own
Diane Rehm
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