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How Margaret Atwood found beauty and hope in Graeme Gibson’s sudden death

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Kayleigh Dray
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Margaret Atwood has confirmed that her beloved partner Graeme Gibson, a fellow writer and bird watcher (both are members of the Rare Bird Club), has lost his battle with dementia.

Celebrated author Graeme Gibson, who was Margaret Atwood’s partner for four decades, sadly passed away on 18 September during the press tour for The Testaments.

They met in the 1970s, and have been in a happy and fulfilling relationship for over four decades. Now, though, Margaret Atwood has confirmed that her beloved partner Graeme Gibson has lost his battle with dementia.

In a statement, The Handmaid’s Tale author confirmed that Gibson died in London during the press tour for her new book, The Testaments – and that he “went out on a high, surrounded by love, friendship and appreciation”.

“We are devastated by the loss of Graeme, our beloved father, grandfather, and spouse, but we are happy that he achieved the kind of swift exit he wanted and avoided the decline into further dementia that he feared,” she said.

“He had a lovely last few weeks, and he went out on a high, surrounded by love, friendship and appreciation. We are grateful for his wise, ethical, and committed life.”

Margaret Atwood, her daughter Jess and her Husband Graeme Gibson in their Hotel room. Because of their writing, they are a family that travels often; for Jess an airport is almost like home. Jess and her father watch the interview. September 23, 1982. (Photo by Ross Anthony Willis/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).
Margaret Atwood, her daughter Jess and her Graeme Gibson, taken in September 1982. (Photo by Ross Anthony Willis/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).

Speaking about her partner previously with The Telegraph, Atwood revealed that the couple lived on a tiny farm in the early years of their relationship with Gibson’s two teenage sons.

After their daughter, Jess, was born in 1976, however, they decided to give up their quiet rural lifestyle. In 1980, they moved to Toronto – and the Canadian city remained their home ever since.

In the same interview, Atwood acknowledged that Gibson had been thoroughly devoted to her and her work – so much so that one journalist wrote that “every woman writer should be married to Graeme Gibson”.

“He thought it was funny,” she said. “He’s pretty good – he mostly just keeps out of the way. And I don’t show him my books before they’re in print. I recommend it. Supposing your spouse doesn’t like your work – then you’re in trouble.”

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While Atwood is famed for chilling dystopias, each of her books holds a kernel of hope at its centre – and many fans believe this is due to the love and happiness she experienced in her relationship with Gibson. 

Indeed, in her novel Cat’s Eye, Atwood famously wrote: “Love blurs your vision; but after it recedes, you can see more clearly than ever. It’s like the tide going out, revealing whatever’s been thrown away and sunk: broken bottles, old gloves, rusting pop cans, nibbled fishbodies, bones.

“This is the kind of thing you see if you sit in the darkness with open eyes, not knowing the future.”

Margaret Atwood launches The Testaments
Margaret Atwood launched her press tour for The Testaments earlier this summer.

Gibson was a dedicated conservationist and served on the council of the World Wildlife Fund. And, like Atwood, he was an esteemed Canadian novelist. His works include Five Legs, Perpetual Motion and Gentleman Death, and his book publisher was Penguin Random House Canada.

Chief Executive Kristin Cochrane said: “Gibson’s influence on the lives of writers in this country has been profound and far-reaching.

“We are grateful for that superlative legacy, one that will continue to flourish, and also grateful for our own experiences working with Graeme: a true gentleman, whose gracious, elegant, and witty manner touched all who knew him.”

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Dementia is one of the most significant illnesses that face us today, and there are currently no effective treatments to slow, prevent or cure it.

According to charity Dementia UK, almost one million people are now living with a form of dementia, the most common form being Alzheimer’s disease.

Sadly, one in three of us will be affected by the disease in some way in our lifetime.

For more information, visit Alzheimer’s UK.

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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is editor of Stylist.co.uk, where she chases after rogue apostrophes and specialises in films, comic books, feminism and television. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends. 

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