Diane Rehm's 'On My Own' Recounts Struggle With Her Husband's Passing

Apr 8, 2016

For nearly four decades, NPR host Diane Rehm has graced the airways, interviewing actors, poets and musicians alike.  Later this year, she will step away from the microphone and into the next chapter of her life, a chapter without her husband John “Scoop” Rehm, who passed away last year from Parkinson’s disease.

In her latest book, On My Own, Rehm recounts her husband’s passing, life on her own and the right to dying with dignity. 

“He was the light of my life,” Rehm says of her husband. “John Rehm was my biggest booster.”

The two met in the offices of the State Department when he worked as a lawyer and she as a secretary.  They were married for 54 years.  Despite struggles regarding his health, Rehm says the key to their lasting marriage was working together.

“I believe that there are no perfect marriages.  It’s the very struggles that make that relationship stronger, and I do believe that ours was very strong despite the struggles,” Rehm says.

Once his condition worsened, he could no longer perform daily functions.  In fear of falling more into degradation, he decided he no longer had the desire to live.  Rehm says she believes in one’s right to interpret God’s plan for his or her life.

“If you feel like you no longer want to continue because you are in pain, or because you cannot care for yourself, or you cannot function on your own, and you feel that the time is right, I believe in that as well,” Rehm says.

Conversation, she adds, is key in determining what is best for families in these difficult situations.

“If you can have that conversation, I think you and they will feel that much more comfortable,” Rehm suggests.

After a conversation with their family and his doctor, Rehm asked her husband if he was sure it was what he wanted.  He stopped eating, drinking and taking his medications.  He had made up his mind. 

“I, of course, as his wife will wonder forever if there was something else I could have or should have done,” Rhem admits.

In the final ten days of her husband’s life, she did not go to work.  Instead, she stayed by his side to comfort him.  A week after his memorial service, she returned to the radio.

“Staying home and feeling sad is not good for the soul,” Rehm urges.

For Rehm, returning to hosting her show aided in her healing.

“Work is a consolation.   Work is a comfort.  Work is a distraction from one’s own grief.  That’s what I needed, and that’s what I chose to do,” Rehm says.

So what’s next for Diane Rehm?

Her future endeavors involve acting in a play called Surviving Grace about a family’s journey with Alzheimer’s, assisting her home NPR station with part-time work, and continuing her work traveling the country to talk with families about the right to die.

“I think that will be the most important thing I can do.”  

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.