In 2004 Rachel Hadas's husband, George Edwards, a composer and professor of music at Columbia University, was diagnosed with early-onset dementia at the age of sixty- one. Strange Relation is her account of "losing" George..........


Strange Relation is a deeply moving, deeply personal, beautifully written exploration of how the power of grief can be met with the power of literature, and how solace can be found in the space between them. - Frank Huyler

Articles, Interviews and Information on Strange Relation

Strange Relation is a beautifully written and piercingly honest account of life with a brilliant man as he descends into dementia, in his sixties. His wife finds herself taking charge of his life: his diagnoses and treatments, his memories, his accomplishments, his day to day existence, while he withdraws into a kind of living absence and an almost total silence. Because, as she writes here. “ Even the most sympathetic doctors write no prescription for the imagination,” poet and scholar Rachel Hadas reveals the ways in which she has relied upon literature and poetry -- some if it, poignantly, her our-as she tries to clarify each step of an uncharted and bewildering journey. This is a deeply intelligent and illuminating book, all of its many layers suffused with love.  -  Reeve Lindbergh

Like an elegy, Strange Relations is about loss and grief. Like all elegies, it is also memorializes and celebrates.  Rachel Hadas, in the course of her personal narrative, cites accounts of dementia, in its social and personal meanings. She also cites works of imagination by Constantine Cavafy, Emily Dickinson, Euripides, Thom Gunn, Thomas Hardy, William Shakespeare, and many others, as well as her own poems:  all integral and necessary to her subject-which ultimately is wonder at the human mind itself, in all its mysterious powers and fragilities. - Robert Pinsky

What is related in this astonishing book is life-intimacy shared and then denied, agency ebbing and flowing, the deep daring gift that the imagination gives to  beings. Rachel Hadas finds within poems the truths she cannot live without. Her demented husband George loses, ebbing, his capacity to create, in music, his share of the world’s beauty. To his wife’s horror and rage, he loses his capacity tolerate. Amid waves of prediction and remembrance, Strange Relations donates to its reader a location in the world, anchored by the voice and vision of its teller, from which to gaze at the world and even be grateful for it-in its anguish and its diminishment and its savagery as well as its glory and harmony and contact.

In these writings about the frightening and deadening gradual leave-taking of her neurologically ill husband. Rachel Hadas restores presence. His chair is no longer empty; his silence lightens. In these writings arise talk, vision, even glee. It is as if the words and the light and the movement withheld gradually from the ill husband who succumbs to stasis and silence now flow, thawed, though the medium of the wife’s deep dwelling in poems. her and others, that grant her not release but rejoicing. In the oddest way, this book allegedly about loss and grief lets us in a on how poetry works, how the thinking and imagining and creating and doing flow together. As the husband is portrayed losing layer after layer of whatever the mind and self are, the wife is portrayed finding (winning) layer upon layer of meaning, of connection, of power, of love.

If only all doctors and nurses and social workers who care for the chronically ill could read this book. If only patients and family members stricken with such losses could receive what this book can give them. While Strange Relations relates one illness and the life of one family, it is also, poetically, about all illnesses, all families, all struggles, all living. The art achieves the dual life of the universal and the particular, making it as timeless, making it for us all necessary.

Rita Charon, MD,

PhD Program in Narrative Medicine

Columbia University

“A poignant memoir of love, creativity and human vulnerability.  Rachel Hadas brings a poet’s incisive eye to he labyrinth of dementia.”

Danielle Ofri, MD,

PhD, Author of Medicine in Transition and Singular Intimacies.

Review and Blog

Audio Interview and written Review

The River of Forgetfulness and Strange Relation are highlighted in

the Reading Room

Rachel Hadas’s Poem “In the Taxi to the MRI”

Literature and Giving Care:
An Interview with Rachel Hadas

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Article as it appeared in the June 09, 2012 Vol 379