Prominent NPR talk show host Diane Rehm’s memoir, On My Own, is a plainspoken but passionate account of the death from Parkinson’s disease of her husband of 54 years and of her journey through the first year of widowhood.
Diagnosed in 2005, John Rehm, a retired lawyer, finally entered an assisted living facility in November 2012. By June 2014, his condition had deteriorated to the point that he elected to hasten his death by forgoing food, water and medications. The fact that he survived and suffered for another nine days caused Rehm to “rage at a system that would not allow John to be helped toward his own death” and spurred her to commit herself to Compassion & Choices, an organization that advocates for the right to die with medical assistance.
But this memoir is much more than a polemic on aiding the terminally ill. Eschewing self-help clichés, the deeply religious Rehm offers a meticulous narrative of her personal struggle to come to terms with a profound loss. Though the intensity of her love for John is unmistakable, she takes pains not to portray their marriage in idyllic terms. Instead, she describes that relationship as one “filled with both times of joy and years of hostility,” and her mixed feelings clearly affected a “complicated and long-lasting” grieving process she reveals with candor and insight.
Anticipating her memoir’s publication, Rehm, who is 79, announced in December that she would leave broadcasting after 37 years, sometime after the 2016 election. Though she spends a considerable amount of time in the book musing about what it will take for her to feel useful in the years ahead, there is little doubt that this talented woman will find myriad ways to continue her valuable contributions to our world.