SOUTHBURY — Dr. Marianne Bette’s recently published memoir, “Living With a Dead Man: A Story of Love” (Emerald Lake Books) tells the story of the death of her husband, Thom Waner, and the lessons that she took from the experience: mindfulness, forgiveness and letting go.
A physician herself, she learned from Thom, a psychotherapist specializing in death and dying therapies, to accept the concept of the Good Death while living and practicing the Good Life. The premise is illustrated in vignettes of the events of that final year of his life.
But first the back story. Marianne Bette, born and bred in Southbury, growing up among six children and a bunch of cousins, moves to California after completing her medical training and establishes a successful family medical practice.
Marries Thom with “a thriving psychotherapy practice” and lives with him and their two daughters and a daughter from his previous marriage.
An outbreak of violence in the community turns her thoughts back to the protected environment of Southbury and the extended family there, and eventually Thom agrees to emigrate back east with her. “Our colleagues were flabbergasted,” she writes.
Building their house took forever and they lived for a time in a mobile home on her parents’ property before renting a house. Marianne opened her family practice office in town and Thom established his death, dying and grief counseling working from the house.
On the day of their seven-year-old’s second-grade, parent teacher conference, Thom suffered a seizure while sitting in the classroom.
“Immediately my mind splintered into three parts,” Dr. Bette writes: “the wife, the mother and the doctor.” This trinity of affinities became her mantra for the time that remained.
Tests soon revealed that the culprit was a brain tumor, but the primary culprit was a small tumor in his left lung. The outcome was preordained and the most likely culprit was identified as 30 years of heavy smoking.
For the remainder of his time, Thom practiced the full range of his professional skills in meditation. Focused on death, dying and grief, he was, after all, “the death and dying expert. He wrote papers on it. He had gone through it with patients, family and friends.” The Good Death was his goal.
“I’d never known how good a death and its process could be until I learned that from Thom,” Dr. Bette writes. “It was an intensely intimate and gratifying experience.
“Now that time has gone by, I can look back without all the raw pain and impending loss. Thom’s dying was a gift. It sounds weird, but this truth is coming from my core.”
And, “Unfortunately the concepts of death and dying are still cloaked in fear, secrets and unknowns — yet death is our common destination, the one event we all will share.”
A book launch party is scheduled from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, September 15, at Dr. Bette’s office, 77 Main St. North. The public is invited; books will be available for sale.