Book Review: August Farewell

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On August 7, 2009, Bill Conklin and David Hallman sat waiting in the emergency room. They had been there all day. For months, Conklin had been thrilled by his seemingly effortless weight loss, while Hallman was deeply worried about his partner's accompanying fatigue and pain. Repeated tests remained inconclusive. But now it looked like they might get an answer.

They did—and the news was not good. Conklin had pancreatic cancer. Stage Four.

In the beautifully evocative August Farewell, David Hallman recounts their final days, from that devastating diagnosis to Conklin's death, capturing both factual details and his own roller-coaster emotions. In the preface he notes that "the experience of those two weeks was so intense, profound, and spiritual that I wanted to record it while it was still fresh, fearing that as I began forgetting details, it would feel as if I were losing Bill all over again." Hallman need not worry; he has not only preserved those final days, but a compelling portrait of Conklin himself.

This is a true love story. Within his 16-day chronology Hallman masterfully intersplices scenes and stories that trace the arc of their thirty-three-year relationship. I made it to page 13 before starting to sob (much to the consternation of the man sitting next to me on the airplane), but Hallman's dry wit ensures that there are laugh-out-loud moments, too. Hallman recounts their classically awkward meeting. Typical couples' issues about friends and family and how to decorate a new home. Pivotal moments and special memories. And above all, how they take care of each other.

This is also a sensitive guide for those tending to a loved one with a terminal illness. It illustrates the power of hospice care, details the legal issues and funeral preparations one must face, even offers guidance to friends wondering how they can be most helpful.

On day 8, Hallman notes how quickly seemingly abnormal new routines become normal. Indeed. Yet, how do we deal with that? Hallman has captured—and most generously shared—what is in many ways a universal experience. His observations and insights on this most personal of journeys provides a filter for others seeking their own understanding.Conklin's final wish was that we be kind to each other. In many ways, by publishing August Farewell, Hallman has done just that.