Lara Parker Reviews Kathryn's New Book "Now With You, Now Without You"
from Lara Parker, author of "Dark Shadows: The Heiress of Collinwood"
In this, her second memoir detailing the discovery of her husband’s illness and his decline—the first was Last Dance at the Savoy —Kathryn Leigh Scott takes the reader on a journey none would choose to embark on, that of her husband final days. However we are willing to accompany her because the flow of her prose and the certain knowledge of where her story is headed give her an unusual grip on our imaginations. From Geoff’s first stumble or slurred word to the moment in the neurologist’s office when she learns that her husband has a terminal illness, we share her first misgivings and her poignant realization that something is terribly wrong; we witness her denial, her frustration, and even her annoyance as she struggles with her awareness of her husband’s developing infirmities.
However, as she comes to accept her situation as inevitable, and she makes plans to travel to as many places as she can with the time she and Geoff have left, we watch as she becomes his conscientious caregiver, struggling with his increasing helplessness. Her determination to remain patient, optimistic, and even cheerful is the real story here, as she makes lists, purchases tickets, books handicap rooms, chooses wardrobe for the weather, arranges for wheelchairs, and even carries luggage, all the while striving for efficiency and ease, making Geoff’s comfort and enjoyment her primary goal. Through these actions of unselfishness and determination she is able to keep her own heartbreak at bay.
Kathryn, who is an actress, writer and publisher, and her husband, Geoff Milller, who founded Los Angeles magazine, have a large group of sympathetic friends and family offering emotional and social support. Kathryn is nothing if not creative and proactive, always looking for new ways to make Geoff’s life more bearable. She initiates an afternoon open house she calls Happy Hour when Geoff can entertain friends over a glass of wine and not have to discuss his illness or be restrained in his hospital bed. Always the flawless hostess, Kathryn serves elegant hors d’oeuvres along with witty conversation to the numerous guests who stop by. Thus, in her own way, she keeps the last unwanted guest behind a closed door.
As a couple unusually devoted to one another, Geoff and Kathryn possess the sophistication and experience to appreciate sightseeing in exotic locales, sunsets and moon glow, good food and wine, and, in Geoff’s case, even jazz. They share a cottage in London as well as a house in Beverly Hills and a flat in New York City, and they are also fortunate to have the wherewithal to travel business class on a cruise to South America. In any other situation their lives would be enviable. Kathryn realizes that, as difficult as it may be, venturing to foreign lands gives Geoff the excitement he needs to distract him from his illness and keep his spirits up, and she is willing to suffer increasingly awkward situations to share this unique pleasure with him.
The surprise in Scott’s book is in the second half when she is left alone and the main source of her energies and efforts has been removed. After Geoff’s death, which she relates in sympathetic detail, and after a wrenching period of mourning, she finds the strength to become her own caregiver, employing all the skills she has mastered and showing the same compassion to herself she showed to Geoff. She discovers the resilience she never thought she would possess to go on with her own life. Travel, which was Geoff’s greatest enthusiasm, continues to intrigue and summon Kathryn, first on a trip to Cuba and then to China. Silently repeating what will become her mantra, “If not now, when?” she eagerly embraces every opportunity to move forward. She rents out her house in Los Angeles and relocates in New York; she resumes auditioning and begins to find work again as an actress and, after three years, she even dips a toe into the waters of romance.
This book is many things: a set of instructions on the tips and traps of caregiving, a cautionary tale of the frustrations and unexpected moments of guilt that accompany watching one’s mate fade a little more each day, and, more than anything else, it is a love story, both inspiring and heart-breaking, of two people whose devotion to one another grew deeper as their days together grew fewer.
As writers know, mining one’s own life for meaning unearths the rarest treasures. Kathryn was wise to keep a diary through her last year with Geoff, and because of it she is able to recall moments both humorous and embarrassing that she might not have remembered—specific details that enliven her story and give it the sharp stab of truth. But deeper than this, in writing of her experience and there-by re-living life as art she has found her muse. In telling Geoff’s story she has, much more importantly, told Kathryn’s. Her writing style, which is almost always as brisk and light-hearted as her relentlessly optimistic attitude, paints her wrenching situation with a patina of indulgence and forgiveness permitting the reader, who might draw back from such a difficult subject, to enter into and imagine her plight. She is able to express the depth of her feelings in prose that is sensitive but not sentimental and to tap into her own heart with wisdom and restraint. Although she does, at times, give into bouts of lonely sobbing, she never asks for the reader’s sympathies. In the face of incomprehensible sadness, she writes with a discipline and objectivity that enables her to hold in her tears while allowing ours to flow.
"Now With You, Now Without You" launches tomorrow, October 31, 2017. Please pre-order here: http://amzn.to/2zkd6SP and leave a review on Amazon.
"Dark Shadows: The Heiress of Collinwood" by Lara Parker is available here: http://amzn.to/2ziZ7wG