Written by a baptist minister and nursing home chaplain, On Vanishing is a fascinating and unusual take on dementia and how we view it in our modern society. Traditionally, says Lynn Casteel Harper, we talk of people ‘fading away’ or ‘vanishing’ as the disease takes hold. But combining personal stories with theology, history, philosophy, literature, and science, she confronts our elemental fears about disappearance and death. Ultimately, she asks, can we learn how to ‘vanish well’?
Harper encounters dementia on a personal level, witnessing her grandfather’s struggle with the disease. She also discovers that she herself has a heightened genetic risk of succumbing to dementia, something which underlies all her musings on the nature of the illness.
As she details her own stories and encounters – of leading a prayer group on a dementia unit; of meeting individuals dismissed as “already gone” and finding them still possessed of complex, vital inner lives – Harper engages in an exploration of dementia that is unlike anything written before on the subject.
Parul Sehgal, writing in the New York Times, called the book ‘a searching, poetic inquiry into dementia.. she writes without fear or aversion but with a robust, restless curiosity, a keenness to reframe our understanding of dementia with sensitivity and accuracy.’ One UK reviewer on Amazon was also moved to call it ‘a moving and insightful examination of a condition that is as common as it is misunderstood. I’m hopeful that this book will help create a sea change in our attitude toward dementia patients.’