In her memoir, "Memory's Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia,” Gerda Saunders writes: “When I was diagnosed with early- onset dementia just before my sixty- first birthday in 2010, I kept my hurt, anger, fear, and doubts under wraps. I had no choice. I had a job, a husband, children, grandchildren, friends. I had a life. However, there is nothing like a death sentence— in my case, the premature death of my mind— to provoke questions about life. What, actually, is memory, personality, identity? What is a self? Will I still be (have?) a self when my reason is gone? For me, the place to work out such questions has always been in writing. From that place of self- reckoning, then, came this book.”
“In July 2011— nine months after my diagnosis— when I retired from my position as the associate director of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Utah, my colleagues gave me a beautiful leather- bound journal as a goodbye present. I took to jotting down notes in it about my daily misadventures— pots on the stove boiling dry, washing my hair twice in an hour, forgetting to bake a casserole I had prepared the night before. With a wink at my background in the sciences, I called my journal Dementia Field Notes: I would be an anthropologist, assigned to observe one member of a strange tribe, the Dementers. Like a true scientist, I would be objective. No whining, wailing, or gnashing of teeth. Just the facts. A month or two into my “objective” writing, I also started to write a personal narrative about my dementia. Objectivity be damned…”
“Memory’s Last Breath” captures Saunders’ experience as a fiercely intellectual person living with the knowledge that her brain is betraying her. Her book constitutes an important contribution to the writing on dementia, a diagnosis one in nine Americans will receive.
Gerda Saunders joins Tom Williams for the hour Thursday on Access Utah.