Friday November 2, 2012
Caregiver shares pain of dying husband
Review by VIJAY DORAI
A courageous widow shares the pain — and guilt — entailed in caring for a dying husband.
Dream New Dreams: Reimagining My Life After Loss
Author: Jai Pausch
Publisher: Two Roads, 228 pages
BEING a caregiver to a loved one who is suffering from a serious illness can be a thankless job. The role and needs of the caregiver are often ignored in the process, as Jai Pausch shares in her memoir Dream New Dreams.
The experience is surely intensified when you are the wife and primary caregiver to Randy Pausch, renowned computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University and author of the bestselling book The Last Lecture.
The book opens with a young Randy visiting the University of North Carolina’s virtual reality lab, where Jai is working while studying for her PhD.
He asks a million questions and insists on being called Randy, not Dr Pausch. She finds him intelligent and refreshingly down to earth. A beautiful love blossoms in fairytale fashion. Soon they are married, and blessed with three lovely children.
This favourable state of affairs is shattered six years into their marriage, when Randy announces that he is going to die of pancreatic cancer.
Life takes a complete turn, and Jai’s dream of a happy family turns into a medical nightmare. Soon, visits to theme parks are replaced by dreaded consultations with oncologists.
Chemotherapy and palliative medicine suddenly become central to their everyday conversations. In addition to being wife and mother, Jai assumes the role of “emotional backstop and sounding board for a sick and potentially dying man”.
Thus begins a new chapter in her journey, between taking care of her children and her husband while desperately trying to make sense of, and come to terms with, the effects of this unwelcomed new influence in her husband’s life – cancer.
That the author intends for this book to shed light on the experience of a caregiver does not go unnoticed. It is in fact thoroughly, and at times shamelessly, articulated.
Jai’s honesty is evident throughout the narrative, from her emotional struggle in coming to terms with her life being stolen by cancer and her occasional guilt in assessing the “impact (Randy’s) death would have on me” to her acceptance that she loved him dearly “even though I occasionally failed him throughout his ordeal”.
Though this book was written to “care for the caregiver”, the author tends to focus primarily on her struggle in managing cancer-stricken Randy and her three children. The reader will not find in here tips or directions for effective care giving, nor are there many insights into handling the emotional and mental stress that entails.
What can be found are innumerable anecdotes of the author’s struggle – some of which, unfortunately, corrodes our memory of Randy Pausch that was formed by his memorable The Last Lecture.
In this memoir, we are exposed to the raw and unrehearsed part of Randy, who turns out to be a demanding patient, ruthless in his pragmatism when dealing with his sickness.
Jai writes of Randy calling her “unempathetic” and telling her she’s doing a “terrible job”.
She writes about feeling a “lack of appreciation” for her efforts. Randy also comes off as a control-freak when, as a dying husband, he shares a list of potential men who would be suitable to fill his position!
Even though the book is subtitled Reimagining My Life After Loss, the story of renewed liveliness in Jai’s persona is afforded little space.
Sharing her new experiences after Randy’s passing, she couldn’t seem to help but litter the pages with her grief.
Regrettably, the last few chapters fail to paint a picture of a wife reimagining her life. Instead, it passes for a brave portrayal as a single mother and pancreatic cancer advocate, while occasionally faltering in guilt to remind the reader that the writer is actually still in mourning.
These chapters are, at best, a reflection of a heavy heart keeping up with a resolute mind.
Jai’s style of narrative is effusively informal – and at times disappointingly jarring. Repetitive affirmations and a lack of flow make the reading difficult in some parts.
However, her intimate sharing and openness in revealing her deepest scars endears her to the reader, making the book feel like a conversation over coffee and plenty of tissues between two best friends. Her misery very easily seeks our company, and we go through the narration feeling a big part of Jai’s support group.
Understandably, the book is also strewn with doses of self-pity and a subconscious yearning for validation and acceptance. The dedication of the book to caregivers “who struggle to do the best they can without proper training and resources to help them” sums up how Jai felt while she was caring for Randy.
It must have been a difficult task, and her sincerity in sharing her story should be both applauded and cherished.
Dream New Dreams is a work of someone who has found the courage to tell her story, however tragic or pitiful it sometimes can be.
It is an honest account of a wife who did her best in taking over the family reins as her husband suffered and passed away. It shows how cancer can truly affect every detail of an ordinary family.
If the reader expects a manual for caregivers, this book will disappoint. On the other hand, as a product of one person’s journey towards self-forgiveness, Dream New Dreams is a success in many ways.