Book Review: Second Forgetting by Dr Benjamin Mast

Review – Dr Eleasa Sieh


from Luke’s Journal 2020 | Ageing Gracefully | Vol.25 No.3

Front cover of the book: Second Forgetting.

“This is a book about hope.” 

The opening sentence of the preface struck me. I first picked this book up out of curiosity at the meaning of its title and subtitle: “Remembering the power of the Gospel during Alzheimer’s disease”. 

As a General Practitioner (GP) and granddaughter who watched her grandmother provide more than 10 years of care for my grandfather, who lived and eventually died with Alzheimer’s dementia, the penny had never dropped on how hope played an important role in the life of someone living with dementia. Hope certainly wasn’t considered when I conducted home visits on spouses and even couples living with dementia during my thus far short working experience in community geriatrics and general practice. These personal reasons made this book a pertinent read. And having done so, I heartily recommend this to anyone who is as intrigued by its title and content as I was.

“[For me] the penny had never dropped on how hope played an important role in the life of someone living with dementia.”

Dr Benjamin Mast is a clinical psychologist and associate clinical professor in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He has had extensive experience in clinical work and academic research with both those living with all stages of dementia, as well as their caregivers. It is also obvious that he has a clear and deep grasp of the redemptive story of God and His people, applying the Gospel to the book title’s meaning and its implications for the sufferer, the carer and the local church. 

The ‘first forgetting’ is the hallmark of dementia, the predominant loss of declarative memory when a person develops one of the various types of dementia. The ‘second forgetting’ is that of a spiritual amnesia, a temporary loss of memory of foundational Christian truths that is prevalent in people, including redeemed Christ-followers. This forgetting includes (but is not restricted to) that of God’s faithfulness in the past, His presence in the midst of current trials and His promises for the future. As such, this is not just a book about dementia and caring for someone with dementia, but also “about how we respond to seemingly overwhelming situations of life and the weight of suffering”. 

It is no surprise that the suffering of dementia is largely silent, as functionality and declarative memory ebb away, robbed by the unrelenting disease. Dr Mast speaks the words of Scripture into this silence, giving voice to the grief and the groaning dementia causes to both its sufferers and their surrounding community. The redemption of this groaning is seen through the lens of the Gospel, as well as the practical advice referenced from geriatric and psychiatric studies showing that emotional and procedural memory remain largely preserved in those living with dementia. 

Furthermore, Dr Mast provides pastoral encouragement for caregivers in two specific chapters, as well as writing one chapter exhorting the body of Christ in how to more carefully and creatively care for the person living with dementia, their caregiver and family. There is helpful engagement with the reader through questions at the end of each chapter, addressing those who live with dementia, those who may be caring for and living with someone with dementia as well as a church member or pastoral care worker to this person. 

“It is Dr Mast’s hope with this book to engage the sufferer and the carer with the God who never forgets, reminding both of them of this comforting truth.”

It is Dr Mast’s hope with this book to engage the sufferer and the carer with the God who never forgets, reminding both of them of this comforting truth. This book is primarily addressed to the believer, who has redemptive freedom in their repentance and trust in God, for whom God’s remembrance is a mercy and comfort. (On the other side of the coin and outside the scope of this book, God’s remembrance is also the foundation of His justice, who because of Christ’s redeeming blood shed on the cross, “remembers sins no more” as stated in Isaiah 43:25.)

My grandmother speaks little English, thus she hasn’t and will never read this book. Yet I marvel at how God endowed her with His supernatural patience and perseverance in caring for my grandfather, who once served as a former general of the Nationalist army in China reduced to frailty by Alzheimer’s dementia in his later years. My grandmother undoubtedly lived with providential hope and knowledge of God’s redemptive grace during the physical toil of caring for him. 

I am compelled now to live in light of this hope, by remembering God’s faithfulness together with my grandmother through her retelling stories of her years caring for my grandfather. I hope to be able to pass on these stories of God’s faithfulness to our family one day. 

In our human finiteness we tend to forget God’s grace and mercy, even during the best of times. This book has served as a touchstone to “number my days” and live wisely by taking the time now to remember, both who God is and what He has done for me and my family.

Dr Eleasa Sieh
Dr Eleasa Sieh is a Canadian-born Chinese permanent resident of Australia, and works as a general practitioner on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland. This book was one she had on her always too-long to-read list but when it showed up on a list of book recommendations as part of a Biblical counselling course, she jumped at the chance to read it and write this for Luke’s Journal. 

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