For Christmas, I was given With the End in Mind: Dying, Death and Wisdom in an age of Denial. It is a fascinating book, written by Kathryn Mannix, a medic specialising in palliative care. And as she writes: My weapon of choice for this campaign is stories.’ The campaign is a campaign to give each other permission to talk about dying.
As Mannix explains, the stories are ‘about normal humans, dying normal human deaths, and they offer us illumination, models for action and hope.’
In an early story, French Resistance, Mannix tells the story that started her campaign. She tells of an experienced doctor helping a French woman face her death with courage, confidence and finally peace of heart. And he did that by helping her re-write her story about death - which, of course, is one of the reasons I find this book so fascinating.
Most of us are not at ease with the idea of our death; many of us have never encountered death at close quarters, as it is so medicalised and taboo. If we have it may well have been in the context of a terrible accident; but most of our experience is fake - the deaths we see on television or in the movies. And, of course, by the nature of these media, these are atypical. Drama is always dramatised, or we would get bored: it illustrates life (and death) in extremis.
So Mannix believes that many - most - of us have unhelpful stories about death; unhelpful both in terms of not helping us to support others through this natural and inevitable process, and in terms of not equipping us to face our own deaths well.
Hence the stories she tells; stories drawn from her years of experience, that, as she says, ‘offer us illumination, models for action and hope.’
I have yet to finish the book, but so far it is immensely interesting (enjoyable sounds like the wrong word in this context, but I was very tempted to use it…) and I have no hesitation in recommending this book as extremely thought-provoking and valuable, even before I finish it (I hope - and trust - that she won’t ruin it in the last pages…)