I have spent the last couple of days engrossed in the story of Bonnie and John Suchet. In his memoir, My Bonnie, John writes movingly of his wife’s decline with dementia/Alzheimer’s. (It is in the nature of the disease that it is notoriously difficult to assess the root cause.) Alongside Bonnies’ decline, the author successfully interweaves the spell-binding love story of their 25+ years together. And this is a major success of the book.
Celebrities have a hard time when tragedy and illness strike their lives; not only is there immediate publicity, but there is often a call for them to become a figurehead or spokesperson for charitable work. John shares the tale of his ongoing work with Dementia UK whilst making us aware of his own internal struggles. Whilst he was the principal carer for Bonnie, his time was obviously restricted, but as time went on he had to accept help, so he was able to share some of his experiences through radio, TV and papers. I hadn’t heard any of these so the story was completely fresh to me.
You might rightly think that this is a dark, dark subject. After all, most of us have come across dementia in someone we know or are close to. As we get older ourselves, it is now the hidden fear….. the way cancer was usually a death sentence 50 years ago. Dementia is a slow killer, and is a series of terrible losses for surviving family and friends. I can’t imagine what it is like to be someone diagnosed with the disease, but the amazing thing about the book is that I ended up with a great fondness and liking for Bonnie herself.
This is not a book that is all about goodness and bravery, struggle and ultimate triumph. It tells the story sympathetically, but warts and all. For instance, John and Bonnie fall in love and each leave their existing partners and family. Whatever your thoughts on that, it is clear that they felt this was inevitable. John also describes his own weaknesses and the consequent guilt he feels. So all in all it is an epic work.
It is not for the faint-hearted, it tugs at the heart strings; but inevitably it also makes me remember my Granny. What is has done is to make me more determined than ever to support charities who help in practical ways and by funding research. Let me know what you think.