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Time to Think About Death


A year or two ago my mom read a book about death, Being Mortal, that she raved about. She gave the book to Adam, who read it, and raved about it. They both told me I had to read it, but I put it off until now.

Like many people, death is something I try to NOT think about. I am not concerned about what will happen to me after I die. I am more concerned with how and when it will happen. But because this is something I can easily get anxious about, I wasn't eager to read the book in case it got me all worked up.

Fortunately, it did not. I even read it as my nighttime reading, which is unusual for me, because normally I reserve that time for fiction.

But I am here now to rave about it and tell you you need to read it too!

To be more specific, the book is about how we view death and how death is treated in Western Medicine. Its written by an American surgeon, Atul Gawande, who I now worship.

It examines what is really important, and what we should really focus on at the end of life. We tend to focus on longevity at the expense of quality.

It made me think of my beloved Grandma Ruth and the last few years of her life she spent in a nursing home. The nursing home was supposed to be one of the best in Manhattan, and that is very depressing. Sure, the staff were great. But an institution is an institution and those places are a miserable hell. Luckily, my grandma basically died of old age, though she had dementia the last few years, so we didn't have to make tough decisions about treatments, resuscitation, etc. But nonetheless, I found the whole situation very upsetting. She had been a very sharp, active woman her whole life and for the last few years she didn't leave the building and basically slept away most of every day. Every time I think about it, my heart hurts.

Gawande says our fear of death prevents us from thinking about how we want to die, and informing our loved ones. This often leads to terrible ends for people (unnecessary painful treatments and surgeries, nursing homes, hospital stays, etc.) and people dying in institutions, instead of at home surrounded by loved ones. He is so right!

Though he supports assisted dying in extreme situations, he points out that if we planned better for our deaths and communicated our wishes better with loved ones and care givers, it would be necessary much less often.

There were only a few spots in the book that got me anxious, particularly, when he discussed a few patient cases involving young people dying of incurable cancer (that basically is my worst fear). Most of it features stories of the elderly, which I can handle better.

The issue, Gawande argues, isn't just dependent on individuals, but also on major changes to the medical system and how we treat terminal illness and disability. Nursing homes are awful places period. Assisted living in its truest form, is much better, as is hospice care.

While this may seem like a depressing topic, its essential reading I think. Because we all will die one day. That's inevitable.

Okay, order the book and then have a good day!

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