ASK Musings

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March 2018



With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an Age of Denial by Kathryn Mannix

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Four Stars

Best for: Anyone who wants to get the conversation about death going. I know, probably not many folks want to, but the book makes a good case for it.

In a nutshell: UK palliative care physician Dr. Kathryn Mannix shares stories from her 40 years working with individuals to manage their symptoms and help with their end of life.

Worth quoting:
“This conspiracy of silence is so common, and so heartbreaking. The elderly expect death, and many try to talk to others about their hopes and wishes. But often they are rebuffed by the young, who cannot bear, or even contemplate, those thoughts that are the constant companions of the aged or the sick.”
“It’s not about ‘getting better’ — bereavement is not an illness, and life for the bereaved will never be the same again. But given time and support, the process itself will enable the bereaved to reach a new balance.”
“It’s a truth rarely acknowledged that as we live longer thanks to modern medicine, it is our years of old age that are extended, not our years of youth and vigour. What are we doing to ourselves?”

Why I chose it:
I saw this at a shop I visited recently, and it jumped out at me. While I don’t have my job anymore, my interest in making sure that the lives of those who are dying and the lives of their family and friends are as well-supported as possible hasn’t gone away.

I’ve read a couple of books like this. There’s Being Mortal and On Living, and they all take different approaches to the topic. While this isn’t my favorite of the three (I think Being Mortal still is), I think it has the best organization and readability. After finishing it, I feel that I’ve both learned more about life and death AND had opportunities to think about it in relation to my own life.

The book is organized into sections, and each chapter is a story about one or two of Dr. Mannix’s patients. It isn’t presented chronologically, so sometimes Dr. Mannix is just starting out as a doctor, and sometimes she’s got two teenagers at home. Shestarts with providing information about the physical aspects of death (how it actually happen, which doesn’t seem to be that similar to what we see in media), then moves on to how people who are dying can gain back some control, how families and those who are dying can face their new reality. It ends looking at ideas of legacy and broader meanings of life.

I know. I mean, sure, a book about death and dying is going to be deep, but this is like Marianas trench deep.

What I liked most is that at the end of each section, there’s literally a chapter called “Pause for Thought,” where Dr. Mannix asks the reader to actively reflect on what they’ve just read, and think about how it might apply or have applied in their own life.

I know that not everyone is as interested in this topic as I am (especially considering in my personal life I’ve been lucky enough to not lose anyone close to me, although obviously that will end at some point), but I still think most people could benefit from reading this book.

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