Title: The Last Act of Love
Author: Cathy Rentzenbrink
“Often I’d look deep into his eyes, looking for awareness. Sometimes, but I was never sure if I’d imagined it, I thought I saw a fleeting grimace, a flash of his old self realizing where and who he was. I wondered where his essence was, his soul.”
I picked this book up while browsing the shelves of Burgate Books in Canterbury. I’ve been really enjoying non-fiction at the moment (mainly due to how much I loved This is Going to Hurt) so when I saw this, I decided to continue my non-fiction streak. This memoir centres on the life of the author, Cathy Rentzenbrink, and how everything was turned upside-down when her brother, Matty, was hit by a car in 1990. For the following eight years, Cathy and her parents do all they can to keep Matty comfortable and try everything to get him to wake up from his PVS (persistent vegetative state). But in 1998, Matty dies, and Cathy must continue her life knowing it is nothing like what it would have been if her brother had never been in the accident.
This book was devastating right from the beginning; uniquely, the blurb of this novel tells you exactly what’s going to happen – Matty will be hit by a car and he will never recover, and yet, every time Rentzenbrink described Matty throughout the eight years after the accident, I couldn’t help but hold a little hope for his recovery. It was hard as a reader to see such a bright, young person have their life complexly ruined, so I am just lost for words about how it must have felt for Cathy and her parents.
Cathy is very honest in her re-telling of Matty’s life and in how it impacted her own, but, interestingly, I didn’t think this novel would show so rawly the impact of Matty’s accident on Cathy’s life. It’s clear that not only does she become dependent on alcohol to drown her misery, but it is also clear that she struggles to continue her normal life from the moment of his accident. Again, I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been, but I found myself, not only sympathising with Matty, but I also thinking that Cathy was almost as badly affected.
The most heartbreaking part of this book was that I kept having to remind myself it was all true; Cathy’s compelling and emotive writing made the cruel and unfair situation all the more devastating and I have so much admiration for her and her parents because even though they eventually came to the realisation that he wasn’t going to get better, they never once compromised Matty’s quality of life. As Cathy described, Matty’s soul may not have been present, but they looked after his body until the day he died. I implore you to read this book as an unequivocal presentation of what grief can do to a person, and I commend her bravery to share her’s and Matty’s stories with everyone.