Ken Garfield

This article first appeared in Mecklenburg Medicine, a publication of the Mecklenburg County Medical Society.     

Finding purpose and peace in the final chapter of life is the theme of a tender new book by a Charlotte physician.   

The years we have left after retirement, Dr. Charles H. Edwards II writes, why surrender them to nostalgia and time? Why not fill them instead with the rewards that come with embracing life. Cheer for your grandkids at their basketball game. Learn to paint. Pick up that musical instrument you played as a kid. Take a walk. Reconcile a past hurt with a friend or loved one. Quit worrying about money. Don’t worry if you need help with modern technology. Cherish these days, he writes, “when we are finally free of the demands of careers and have time to pursue personal and often delayed agendas.”  

Cover of Much Abides: A Survival Guide for Aging Lives

The title of Dr. Edwards’ book – “Much Abides: A Survival Guide for Aging Lives” – is inspired by these words from the British poet Alfred Lord Tennyson: “Tho’ much is taken, much abides.”    Dr. Edwards has long been a familiar presence in the Mecklenburg  medical community. As a cardiovascular surgeon, he performed more than 1,000 operations over 29 years. Then, one day in the OR, his assistant noticed a tremor in his left hand. Two years from retiring from surgery, he faced the ultimate question. What next?   

Dr. Edwards lost both parents to Alzheimer’s disease. Moved by their struggle, and a determination to offer a more personal level of care, he enrolled in dementia training at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. At age 64, he was crafting his own later-in-life agenda with an eye toward practicing the kind of medicine that goes beyond science. As he recounts in the book, his mentor at Johns Hopkins told him, “Listening to patients is not a skill possessed by many surgeons. In geriatric psychiatry, listening is crucial to effectiveness.”   

In 2013, Dr. Edwards’ vision came to life when he opened a nonprofit medical practice devoted to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other memory and movement disorders. Memory & Movement Charlotte (www.mmclt.org) has grown to include Dr. Edwards, three other physicians and a physician assistant. They care for more than 1,100 patients and 3,000 caregivers. During COVID-19, Memory & Movement Charlotte has seen patients remotely. Its care is based on a time-and-attention model, illustrated by a patient’s first appointment, with family and caregiver present. It lasts up to two hours.  “Much Abides” was inspired by Dr. Edwards’ own story, and by seeing too many people surrender to time. “Mourning the loss of what you had,” he writes, “is too easy and prevents the hard work of making a life out of what is left.”   

His focus is on those facing the normal challenges of aging, and not just on dementia. Time, science, transitions, anxiety and wonder – all are considered in “Much Abides: A Survival Guide for Aging Lives.” He stresses exercise, education, social interaction and proper medicine. He considers how to come to terms with anxiety, depression and loneliness, and dealing with hearing loss and sleep apnea. He shares 10 common mistakes of aging, among them a loss of curiosity and underestimating the amount of time we have left. He even quotes that noted philosopher/pugilist Mike Tyson, who observes life thusly: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit in the mouth.”    Aging can pack such a punch. But it doesn’t have to if we see the golden years as shimmering with possibilities. As Dr. Edwards writes, “My final hope is that each of us will realize we are writing a story, our story. If we value our story and are willing to adjust to the realities brought on by aging, then the final chapters will reflect that we hit our stride. We made time count.”   

Much Abides is $25. Sales support the nonprofit Memory & Movement Charlotte. It will be available at the center at www.mmclt.org, (704) 577-3186 or email@mmclt.org. It’s also for sale at Park Road Books and Traditions, both at Park Road Shopping Center, and through Amazon.