Death is something we all will have to face at some point in our lives. Carla Malden, author of AfterImage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life, writes candidly about her husband’s battle with cancer and how she has learned to cope with his death. She is also the co-author of her father’s book, Academy Award winning actor Karl Malden, When Do I Start?
Laurence Starkman has been in Carla’s life ever since she was sixteen years old. They had a happy and loving relationship. Often many of Carla’s close friends would either get a divorce or continuously complain about being married. Carla and Laurence were truly content with the loving quality and longevity of their marriage. Laurence was a very talented filmmaker, director, editor and screenwriter; essentially he was a Renaissance man. Carla and Laurence wrote screenplays together and had a successful career using their creative talents working well together as a team. Carla was more verbal and Laurence was more visual -- a magical system that worked for them. They also have a beautiful daughter, Cami, who is a gifted artist.
Laurence had a history of ulcerative colitis starting around the age of twenty. He occasionally went to the hospital for procedures, but eventually he got better requiring fewer treatments. However, one day Laurence went for his routine colonoscopy which changed his life and everyone else’s life in the Starkman’s family forever. Laurence was diagnosed with cancer, and given the unfortunate bad news nobody wants to hear.
Carla researched all the medical terms and everything available on cancer treatments. They made sure to have the best physicians in place to tackle this disease. Laurence needed surgery and underwent the operation. From the moment after his surgery, he felt very confident the doctors removed all of the cancer. He firmly believed the chemotherapy treatment would be a breeze, and he would emerge from the process cancer free.
As time went on, Laurence eventually was in agonizing pain. Painkillers joined the mix of nerve desensitization medications which he had been using to comfort the neuropathy. His torment would simply not go away. He and Carla sought all pain remedies possible. At one point they bought a Zero Gravitychair, enabling him to occasionally doze off; but it really wasn’t effective. Laurence visited the neurologist, urologist, and the pain management specialists regularly. The clinical treatments helped for only a few days at a time. The doctors ran multiple tests to find out why he continued to be in so much pain. They found three tiny nodules and a film around his liver. The oncologist told them he had three things to deal with: Pain management, diagnosis, and treatment. Surgery was not an option any longer, as they would need to look into other ways to treat Laurence.
Along with traditional Western medicine, they tried everything possible to help cure Laurence of cancer including: Hypnotists, nutritionists, Chi Kung, Feng Shui, acupuncture, massage therapy, plus others alternative methods. Sometimes Laurence found relaxation with just a simple thing such as playing a Sudoku puzzle as being a comforting form of Zen, taking his mind off of his condition.
Laurence and Carla were in this fight together and were virtually inseparable. They did everything together. This health issue was a completely foreign twist of circumstances for each of them. It changed their lives in a way in which they both knew what the outcome would be, whether they spoke about it or not. As I read this book, it felt more like a love story than a chronicle of his treatment leading to the end of Laurence’s life. Carla and Laurence had a genuine love for each other; a love that is so powerful they felt it will never end even after life itself ended.
Carla Malden has written an unforgettable, deeply touching and honest portrayal about her husband’s eleven month struggle with cancer and how she was able to adjust to becoming a widow. But be forewarned; it's not easy reading. To acknowledge the dying experiences of someone else, we must confront our own mortality. Those who take the journey through to the end of the book may discover unexpected places within themselves more comfortably left alone. This book is filled with human moments of anger, pain, humor, and beauty set in the context of resiliency. The unifying theme of AfterImage: A Brokenhearted Memoir of a Charmed Life, is a firm belief that all of us have a natural healing process for coping with loss if we can trust ourselves and those we love. I appreciated Carla Malden’s accessible writing style and her willingness to tenderly share her vulnerabilities. She was courageous to go to a place that I am sure was painful for her to visit in order to have written this book.
There is nothing more difficult than losing a loved one. This is a book that can help in the healing process of a recent death or even help with the memories after time has passed. It teaches us how loved ones come together and provides comfort for us when we need it the most. It's not about fearing death--it's about embracing life.