Death & Dying Literary Sparks

Being Mortal, by Atul Gawande

January 25, 2016

This was required reading for me as a hospice volunteer.  I had flashbacks of required reading and how dreadful the books could be.  Not so in this instance.  I was captivated from the very first page.  It depicts Atul Gawande’s succinct ability to analyze a topic as he did well in his previous book, The Checklist Manifesto, but this book has an additional element, it comes from his very core.  Not only is he an information synthesizer regarding a very emotional topic but he is also a son and a doctor.  Two sides of a coin that we humans face regarding the topic of death.  When does the doctor need to step aside?  How much is enough in keeping our loved ones alive?  How can we move towards assisting our loves ones to leave this life with dignity?  This book is a beautiful story and should be required reading for every doctor, nurse, and caregiver.

“What if the change in needs and desires has nothing to do with age per se?  Suppose it merely has to do with perspective – your personal sense of how finite your time in this world is.”

“How we seek to spend our time may depend on how much time we perceive ourselves to have.”

“Life’s fragility is primed, people’s goals and motives in their everyday lives shift completely.  It’s perspective, not age, that matters most.”

“Tolstoy saw the chasm of perspective between those who have to contend with life’s fragility and those that don’t.”

“The answer is that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves. …The important thing was that, in ascribing value to the cause and seeing it as worth making sacrifices for, we give our lives meaning.”

“In fact, human beings need loyalty.  It does not necessarily produce happiness, and can even be painful, but we all require devotion to something more than ourselves for our lives to be endurable.  Without it we only have our desires to guide us, and they are fleeting, capricious and insatiable.”

“As our time winds down, we all seek comfort and simple pleasures of companionship, every day routine, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight on our faces, We become less interested in the rewards of achieving and accumulating and more interested in the rewards of simply being.”

“You’re only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater:  a family, community, society.  If you don’t, mortality is only a whore.  But if you do, is not.”

“Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy -the freedom- to be the authors of our lives.  This is the very marrow of being human.”

“All we ask is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story.  That story is ever changing.  Over the course of our lives, we encounter unimaginable difficulties.  Our concerns and desires may shift.  But whatever happens, we want to retain the freedom to shape our lives in ways consistent with our character and loyalties.”

“The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life – to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”

“And the insight was that as people’s capacities wane, whether through age or ill health, making their lives better often requires curbing our purely medical imperatives – resisting the urge to fiddle and fix and control.”

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