An enlightening book on death and how to honor the process.
Wouldn’t you agree –One of the benefits of living in the 21st Century is that through medical miracles and advancements, we are living longer and better than any other time in history. Yet while scientific advancements have increased our expectations for mortality, the hard truth still remains: our mortality does come to an end. Like it or not, death is a part of the natural order of things. In his book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End Dr. Atul Gawande looks at the modern experience of mortality – what it’s like to be creatures who age and die; how medicine has changed the experience and how it hasn’t; where our ideas about how to deal with our finitude have got the reality wrong.
Dr. Gawande’s argument is that
[bctt tweet=”In America, or in any industrialized nation, we don’t do death well. We can do better.”]
As medicine works at prolonging life and keeping patients safe, often it (and we) lose sight of the individual – who they are, what we are having them become – because death is hard. As Dr. Gawande points out, “…our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”
Using “eye-opening research” and case studies from his patients and his own family. Dr. Gawande’s intent is to show how the ultimate goal for all mortals is not how to have “a good death” but rather to have “a good life all the way to the very end.”
Through reading this book, I learned the history behind nursing homes and assisted living facilities and how today they are being used in ways that weren’t meant for their original intent. I also became familiar with innovative new ways to help individuals cope positively as they approach the end of their mortal life. Each story was captivating and had me comparing their experiences to what I know and how I think death should be carried out.
Having this courageous conversation helps to insure that whatever interventions, risks, and sacrifices are considered, they are justified based on what the individual understands and wants—not our selfish desires.
I found it ironic that as I was finishing this book, my 83 year old father suffered some critical health setbacks and is now facing mortality questions of his own. I now feel better equipped as his daughter and health advocate to not leave everything up to medical decisions alone but rather take a balanced approach to insure that his remarkable life will continue on to the very end.
Death is not a failure; it is a normal part of life. It is unique for each individual, just as their life was. Reading this book has given me new tools and insights on how to prepare for the inevitable and how to honor the reality that endings matter. I highly recommend it as a guide to better understand and handle our own mortality and the mortality of those we love.