Mortality

Read FeedShaw (Watha T. Daniel) Library

Mortality

Most of us avoid thinking about dying and death, and we avoid talking about it even more so. However, if one chooses to read about dying and death instead, there is no shortage of excellent, insightful and even reassuring books on the subject. These memoirs are remarkable for their candor.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Because of their training, most doctors want to do all they can to prolong their patients’ lives and make them well again. In Being Mortal, we learn that this is not always in the best interest of the patient. Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon and staff writer for The New Yorker, proposes that health care professionals should be trained to help their aging and dying patients to define what makes life worth living and what matters most to them, and to take this into consideration when deciding on the most appropriate options for comfortable end-of-life treatment.

In her graphic memoir, Roz Chast, staff cartoonist at The New Yorker magazine, recounts her experience caring for her parents in their final years. They both lived well into their 90s. She takes us through familiar territory for anyone who has been caregiver for their aging elders: the emergency room visits, falls, downsizing, financial worries, etc. Her story is both hilarious and heartbreaking.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Paul Kalanithi was 36 years old and in his last year of training to become a neurosurgeon when he learned that the excruciating pain in his back was due to terminal lung cancer. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles his struggle to make sense of death and to navigate life decisions knowing that he has only one to ten years left to live.

Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor

Ten years after she was first diagnosed with melanoma, Australian writer Cory Taylor had exhausted all the treatment options for her cancer. In this compact and candid memoir, Taylor seriously pursues the possibility of euthanasia as a means to retain control of her end. She also reflects on the deaths of her mother and father with regret over the lack of meaningful ritual that she and her siblings were able to muster.

The Bright Hour: a Memoir of Living and Dying by Nina Riggs
Two years passed between when her doctor told Nina Riggs that she had one small spot of breast cancer and when she died of that cancer at the age of 39. This memoir, written during her illness, reflects her concern with how her husband and two young sons will cope after she is gone and her determination to love the time she has left despite the fear and sadness.