The long plane flight to Brussels gave me a long overdue chance to read/finish a couple of books, including Susan and John McFadden’s Aging Together: Dementia, Friendship, and Flourishing Communities.
I’m a long time fan and friend to both John and Susan, and I have them both to thank for the development of my own ideas on dementia. So reading this was a personal journey (watching our friendship and conversations over the years evolve into the printed word) and a professional treat (gasping at times at the beauty and solidity of their ideas/words).
The book is academically rigorous – incorporating research from fields of theology, psychology, sociology, history — and yet also inviting and readable. It could be a text for grads, undergrads, or informed readers. What any level of reader will walk away with is a deeper understanding of:
-the history and theory of self, community, and friendship
-the history and theory of the state/diagnosis of dementia
-personal stories/models of how families with dementia have negotiated the challenge of maintaining love and friendship
There were moments when their framing of the issue made lightbulbs go off…as in their discussion of the history of how “man” being created in the image of God has changed across time. Pre-enlightenment, it was the BODY that was imagined as created in the image of God. Thus leprosy was seen as an abomination. Post-enlightenment, it was the MIND that was imagined to be created in the image of God. Thus dementia is seen as the new leprosy. We fear and distance ourselves from it at all costs.
Another moment was their careful analysis of the various types of friendship, and the realization that friendship has fallen victim to capitalism and been commodified. The true rewards of friendship operate outside of the value/market exchange.
Finally, my favorite element of the book is their notion that the biggest challenge for people with family/friends with dementia comes at the moment when fear and compassion both flare up. In my mind, this book is an effort to help coach us through that moment -to calm ourselves in the face of tremendous fears and to choose the path of compassion.