Rev. Lynn Casteel Harper, CLSC Author, On Vanishing: Mortality, Dementia, and What It Means to Disappear

Thursday, August 19, 2021
03:30pm EDT

Location CHQ Assembly Video Platform

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An estimated fifty million people in the world suffer from dementia. Diseases such as Alzheimer’s erase parts of one’s memory but are also often said to erase the self. People don’t simply die from such diseases; they are imagined, in the clichés of our era, as vanishing in plain sight, fading away, or enduring a long goodbye. In ​On Vanishing, ​ Lynn Casteel Harper, a Baptist minister and nursing home chaplain, investigates the myths and metaphors surrounding dementia and aging, addressing not only the indignities caused by the condition but also by the rhetoric surrounding it. Harper asks essential questions about the nature of our outsized fear of dementia, the stigma this fear may create, and what it might mean for us all to try to “vanish well.” 

Weaving together personal stories with theology, history, philosophy, literature, and science, Harper confronts our elemental fears of disappearance and death, drawing on her own experiences with people with dementia both in the American healthcare system and within her own family. In the course of unpacking her own stories and encounters—of leading a prayer group on a dementia unit; of meeting individuals dismissed as “already gone” and finding them still possessed of complex, vital inner lives; of witnessing her grandfather’s final years with Alzheimer’s and discovering her own heightened genetic risk of succumbing to the disease—Harper engages in an exploration of dementia that is unlike anything written before on the subject. 

Lynn Casteel Harper is a minister, chaplain, and essayist. She is the author of On Vanishing: Mortality, Dementia, and What It Means to Disappear (Catapult, 2020), a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. She currently serves as the Minister of Older Adults at The Riverside Church in the City of New York.  

Lynn’s work has appeared in Kenyon Review OnlineSalonThe Paris ReviewNorth American ReviewThe Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere. She is a Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grant recipient and the winner of the 2017 Orison Anthology Award in Nonfiction.  

An ordained Baptist minister, Lynn completed her M.Div. at Wake Forest University and her chaplaincy residency at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. Before joining Riverside’s staff, Lynn was a nursing home chaplain at a continuing care retirement community, where her passion for dementia and aging justice began. Originally from southeastern Missouri, she lives in New York City with her spouse Ryan Harper.