I added ‘The Last Act of Love’ to my reading list after seeing it mentioned on a few different end of 2016 “Best Books” lists, and when it came up as deal of the day on Audible I snapped it up.
‘The Last Act of Love: The Story of My Brother and His Sister’ is author Cathy Rentzenbrink’s heartfelt account of the aftermath of the life changing moment her brother Matty was knocked down, aged 16, walking home from a night out. He suffered a huge head injury and was left in a persistant vegetive state (PVS).
One thing that is clear from the outset, is how much Cathy loved her brother, being best friends as well as siblings, and the close knit loving family they came from. And it is this that makes reading what happened to Matty even harder.
It is a situation that you never think you will be in, and doesn’t cross your mind.
Cathy telling how the family’s immediate hopes and prayers in the days and weeks after the accident, were that Matty would survive and recover. And as the weeks became years the family slowly having the realisation that perhaps Matty surviving was the worst thing they could have wished for – due to the extent of his head injuries.
“praying for the wrong thing”
Cathy knew her brother would have hated the state he had been left in, relying on constant care to stay alive, being totally emotionless to events around him.
And her description of dealing with her emotions and thoughts is heartbreaking to read.
Revealing how she learnt to deal with the normally simple question “do you have any brothers and sisters” in social situations. Listing out the different ways she could answer, and weighing up the balance of honesty against the resulting awkwardness from each potential response.
Cathy grew to live with 2 versions of Matty in her head, old and new. And tells that after she came to think Matty would be better off if he was dead, that she couldn’t bring herself to visit him.
“it felt disloyal to the Matty that was left to grieve for the Matty who was lost”
Last Act of Love
Eventually the family went to the courts to ask that Matty be allowed to die. Their ‘last act of love’ for him, to put an end to his suffering. Reading the affidavit given by Cathy’s Mum is one of the most emotional parts of the book, and also one of the most touching.
Far from ending with his death, the book, and Cathy’s grief, continues. Cathy eventually accepting that she will never not be heartbroken about losing her brother.
It wasn’t just grief, but guilt that played it’s part in this.
Cathy’s guilt that she hadn’t made Matty get a lift home with her that night, guilt that she had wanted him to die. Her guilt she wasn’t there when Matty did die, felt more so when everyone is told at his funeral that she had been.
All in all, though a tough subject matter, it is a brilliantly honest and emotional book, written excellently by Cathy Rentzenbrink.
Describing her pain and grief so truthfully that you can almost feel the heartache she has gone through – whilst still knowing it is much worse than anything you can begin to imagine.
It helps you appreciate what you have, and see what you take for granted.