Kathryn Leigh Scott’s THE HAPPY HOURS: Bringing Joy to the End of Life

Actress and author Kathryn Leigh Scott has written nonfiction before. Last year she published Last dance at the Savoy, an intimate memoir centering on her relationship with her late husband Geoff Miller as he struggled with the disease Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a neurological condition for which there is so far no cure and no treatment. He passed away on April 16th 2011. In that book, she poignantly discussed her role not just as wife but as caregiver to a loved one with a terminal illness. Scott had been encouraged to keep a journal during her husband’s illness by one of her husband’s first doctors which form the basis of the book. Her new, short work, The Happy Hours, centers on one specific aspect of Geoff Miller’s last days.

With Geoff’s health rapidly deteriorating, Kathryn couldn’t help but notice how small and isolated their world had become. Between caregiver and patient, medical equipment and medicines, they began to lose contact with friends, the outside world, and even each other. The road to goodbye had become a lonely one, she created “Happy Hour.” She transformed a sickroom into a place of healthy goodwill well-suited to socializing. For a few hours every day, their master bedroom became an intimate, lively space filled with drinks, food, laughter, and music. This proved to be healthy and uplifting for both of them, as well as their friends, and ultimately, helped lead the couple back to each other.

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In the book she says:

A quiet, intimate setting for friends and family members to say the things they wanted to say, to make amends or express gratitude, and sometimes to just hold hands in farewell—that was the most meaningful part of Happy Hour. The end-of-life transition is a spiritual journey not just for the departing.

The convivial surroundings she went to such pains to create helped greatly, but there was no way to make the situation completely normal. “Socializing with someone who has frailties requires willingness and patience,” she says, but she found that arranging the table and chairs in Geoff’s line of sight encouraged direct communication. She prepared visitors before going up to bedroom that she was willing to answer the questions they wouldn’t want to bring up in Geoff’s presence. His symptoms varied from day to day, and preparing guests ahead of time was a good idea. It was often beneficial to fight the urge to hover, and be willing to leave Geoff alone to chat with an old friend.

The regular happy hours also provided a degree of therapy for the couples’ relationship, which had been under increasing strain as a result of Geoff’s illness: “The lighthearted atmosphere and interaction also restored a degree of romance in our lives, reminding us of what had attracted us to each other other in the first place.”

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The hallmark of Scott’s writing is its candor and intimacy. Particularly in her nonfiction, you tend to feel like you’re sitting across a kitchen table from her, having a one-to-one conversation over coffee. The Happy Hours benefits strongly from this conversational intimacy, and you can almost hear the author’s familiar voice telling her story. “My Happy Hour with Geoff was a chance to enjoy every precious moment and make the most of the time we had together,” she writes. She was also making memories, memories she again shares in a personal and intimate way with her readers.

The Happy Hours by Kathryn Leigh Scott is now available at Amazon.com.

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