Amanda Gates

A Three Dog Life

Abigail Thomas (who grew up in Minnesota, by the way) was married to her husband for 12 years when he was hit by a car and suffered from a serious brain injury. He was never the same man again. He lost his short-term memory and was impossible for her to care for on her own. A Three Dog Life is a short memoir made up of quick vignettes about Thomas' life after her husband's accident.

This book was very moving, touching and incredibly sad. While it's not the same situation (Thomas' husband didn't die instantly), it's very reminiscent of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. Here are two older women (strong, independent women, I might add) trying to come to terms with their new lives without their husbands and the emotions they feel: sadness, guilt, confusion, numbness...

One of Thomas' ways of coping is to have dogs. She eventually winds up with three and they end up being her lifeblood. When she goes on vacation, she misses them. She sleeps with them. They can read her mind. Anyone who loves dogs knows the kind of connection you can have with those animals, and I'm happy that Thomas had her three dogs to help her through the difficult years of living without and visiting a husband who had a limited memory of their times together.

One chapter in particular was amazing. It focused on Thomas' husband, Rich's, premonition-like ability, even with such a massive brain injury. She describes a time when she was in Mexico and called him at his care facility to see how he is. As she's talking to him, she's staring at the Aztec tiles on the wall. She asks what he did that day and he says, "We painted tiles." Later she asks his caregivers who tell her never in the history of the place have they ever painted tiles. Another time, Thomas is struggling with the thought of selling their apartment in NYC. She hasn't told Rich about this - does he even remember the apartment? And if he did, he wouldn't remember she sold it anyway - but when she arrives to visit him, he tells her he can't go with her because he has to get their apartment ready to sell. In her mind, this was his way of saying, even if he didn't know what he was saying, that it was OK to sell it. The brain (not to mention the mental connection between a couple) is so amazing.

For a quick, albeit sad, read, this memoir is a good one.

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