This is Not a Pity Memoir – Abi Morgan

Published By: John Murray
Pages: 304
Released On: 12/05/2022

One morning in June, Abi had her to-do list – drop the kids to school, get coffee and go to work. Jacob had a bad headache so she added ’pick up steroids’. She returned home and found the man she loved and fought and laughed with for twenty years lying on the bathroom floor. Jacob, who had been undergoing treatment for multiple sclerosis, had suddenly experienced a series of seizures and had to be put into a medically induced coma.

And nothing would ever be the same again.

But this is not a pity memoir. It’s about meeting your person. And crazed late night Google trawls. It’s about the things you wished you’d said to the person that matters then wildly over-sharing with the barista who doesn’t know you at all and the wrong shoes and the moments you want to shout ’cut’. It’s about the silence when you are lost in space and the importance of family and parties and noise.

Starting with Jacob’s first collapse and set over the course of two years since, it is a story about love and family. Abi describes with unflinching honesty and nuance the extraordinary and terrifying challenge of caring for a loved one in the wake of devastating illness. The book asks: how do you bring back someone who relies on you for recovery and yet no longer recognises you? How do you reckon with the shared years that came before? And most of all, how do you navigate this new life together?

It’s the difference between surviving and living, It’s a reminder that, even in the worst times, there is a light ahead.

*****

Thanks to NetGalley and John Murray for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

As someone going through her own neurological issues this was a hard book to read and equally review. As it is a memoir about her own life and her partner’s illness, I don’t want to write this like a normal book review, but I will mention a few points that stood out for me.

This book felt very much like a rambling of thoughts, and I mean this in a good way. We are getting front row seats to Abi’s life, her joys and triumphs, her sadness and failures. She is opening up to us and nothing is off limits and I feel privileged to have been allowed access.

There is a humour here, something only someone who has experienced a life-threatening condition can appreciate. A lot of people who aren’t in the inner circle of illness or grief question how you can still smile and laugh, but you have to or you’ll end up spending your whole life crying, and that’s no fun at all.

Abi doesn’t hide away from the dark and difficult moments, the sadness or the grief at losing her husband as she once knew him. This had the power to be quite frightening but it wasn’t. She was honest and there’s something beautiful about that.

There is a line in it where Abi asks whether it’s cruel that medicine can save a life but not promise to bring the person back the same way they were before, whether there’s shame in not wanting a life to be saved if that life will no longer be worth living, and whether we should be saving all lives regardless of the consequence? It’s a quandary many of us have considered. I know that when my late grandmother was very sick with dementia, every time she went into hospital with infections or other illnesses, the medical staff (as brilliant as they are) were only interested in treating the illness, keeping her alive and sending her home. But she didn’t want to be here. And truth be told, I’m not sure we did either. Is there a taboo around wishing that?

I imagine neither Jacob nor Abi would want to be known as inspirational and i understand that, but I’m still going to say they are. Abi lived through her own cancer diagnosis, treatment and surgery, whilst raising her two children, running a house, and caring for her very poorly husband. All of that must have been emotionally, mentally and physically draining even to put one foot in front of the other. Jacob will no doubt say he’s done nothing inspirational, all he’s done is fall ill and survived it. But that’s why. As someone who is having to get used to being cared for herself, I can understand how difficult it can be. And even surviving such a terrible illness is an inspiration in itself. But together, they are a team and they get through it and show that you can climb every mountain and come back down again.

Abi doesn’t believe in pity memoirs. She only believes in words on a page, and if they happen to mean something to someone, then they are worth being written. Amen to that.

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