A Book about Mortality brings me to 616 pages

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So, something that happens to me frequently in these reading challenges is that a life event might set me on a different path than what I had been intending to pursue in my reading.  This January, it has been the simultaneous challenges of both of my parents needing major additional care, as they have both been dealing with health issues that have moved into a more intensive category.

A friend had recommended this book, Being Mortal, to me several months ago- before my parents’ situations had become urgent (as smaller problems had begun to crop up, in order to maybe prepare for what was to come)- and of course I never finished it when I had the time.  But, when everything became intense, I decided to pick it back up, start from the beginning and read it through.

Let me start by saying that this is not an uplifting book.  It is hard to get through many/most of the stories.  But, I do think it helped me to understand the difficulties of aging and illness in an incredibly clear light.  The book is written by a doctor who has experienced many end-of-life situations, and he shares what he has learned by being right there, part of the process.  He gives honest accounts of talking patients through options- knowing that what he says, and how he communicates with patients and their family members will have a significant impact on the choices they make, and the way that they view these very difficult life and death events.

The pages are filled with suffering- but also offer options, ideas and learning experiences that have helped Dr Gawande to become more skilled and sensitive as he navigates these challenging situations.

I am very glad that I read the book- I feel a new, more mature and potentially more helpful way of coping.  I feel that it has given me a lens to really focus on the quality of life for my parents, and for anyone that I might encounter in the future who is suffering.  I do believe that Atul Gawande has offered the world a gift by sharing a glimpse of reality, as well as hope that we might be able to walk through difficulty more gracefully, if we stay aware of what really matters.

The words that I will return to are the essence of the book, and show up in the epilogue- but no doubt can be helpful to anyone, anywhere on the path to acceptance of life’s challenges:

“Whenever serious sickness or injury strikes and your body or mind breaks down, the vital questions are the same: What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?”

A life-changing book.  I don’t usually give ratings, but this one deserves a 5 out of 5.

 

9 comments on “A Book about Mortality brings me to 616 pages”

  1. Thank you for such a thoughtful post, Meredith. I am interested in this book now so thanks for bringing it to my attention– I wanted to say, there is a book called The Other Side of Sadness that is about grief/loss, and it is really powerful and uplifting- got me through some very trying times and is one I refer to when my grief confronts me abruptly, etc. Just wanted to put that out there if you haven’t heard of it.

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    1. Thank you Alison, I am definitely going to look for the book you mentioned. I am learning that it is critical to maintain a balance- a full acceptance of reality, as well as hope and positivity in light of challenging times. So much to learn and share!

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  2. I loved On ‘Being Mortal.’ I have hospital chaplain training which put me in many difficult situations in a hospital setting. I am 71 years old with health issues of my own, and I have friends with health issues who can no longer live at home. I helped my Mother and my friend’s Mother as they faced special needs and end-of-life issues. My Mother was in a nursing home for only two weeks, but my friend’s Mother lived in a nursing home for several years until she died at 95. More recently three friends went through difficult cancer treatment and died. Accompanying those who are moving toward the end of life is difficult, but it is also a very sacred act with many rewards. Our institutions and training programs are in so much need of reform. Gawande is a guiding light. Meredith, I will think of you as you move forward with your parents’ care.

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    1. Thank you for your response, Barbara. I appreciate your experiences and love what you say here: “Accompanying those who are moving toward the end of life is difficult, but it is also a very sacred act with many rewards. Our institutions and training programs are in so much need of reform. Gawande is a guiding light.” I agree that Gawande offers so many helpful possibilities, I hope and pray that somehow we- as both individuals and as a culture- make peace with this part of the process of life, and find ways to stay connected, as well as finding ways to be in service, as you have in your chaplain work..
      Thank you also for your thoughts about my parents- I will also be thinking of you…

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  3. I did read Being Mortal, but should take a look at it again. I remember feeling like there is no answer. Right now, I’m reading Grieving Mindfully (one of many books I’ve started and not made enough progress through), and I’m finding it very helpful. It’s a book a friend recommended that helped her after her father died. My grandmother passed away six months ago and I was very involved in taking care of her. The grieving process maybe also sometimes begins earlier, as parents need more help and are clearly declining.

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    1. Hi Sejal, I agree that Being Mortal did not provide a definitive solution, but I did love how well he presented the issues and problems that can be encountered along the way of illness and aging.. The book has already helped me to navigate a few steps on my journey- mostly by keeping honest and clear about what it is we are dealing with. Awande’s book offers many examples of the difficult conversations that become integral to either healing, acceptance, or both.. and probably my biggest take-away is to not hesitate to talk about the situation, ask questions, and not avoid subject matter that might bring up strong emotions. I also agree that the grieving process may start earlier as we go through even the early steps of decline.. I will look out for the book, Grieving Mindfully- thank you for recommending it!

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  4. I’m very glad you read this book, Meredith. I think I have read everything Dr. Gawande has written, and have always profited from it. These decisions are ridiculously hard. One can have quite reasoned thoughts about what she or he wants done in the way of intervention, as an example, but how to hold onto those thoughts when push comes to shove. And the ultimate fear for me is failing to make decisions before the time comes when I might become unable to make decisions for myself.

    Thanks for your post, Meredith. I continue to think about you and yours.

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    1. Thank you, Teri! I think we all have similar concerns about what to do and when, and how…. I suppose these situations don’t always have definitive answers, and part of the process is to accept that we may not handle everything perfectly- we are only human.. I am also fearful of not making decisions in time, and have already begun some basic conversations with my family about this subject- maybe on the early side, and I am not dwelling or depressive about it, but just some simple things that are opening the dialogue.. thanks for your thoughts 🙂

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