When we pick our Book of the Month, we don’t just pick a book. We pick a topic, a world, an idea. These have so far been far-ranging matters, from hypothetical science to the Italian coast, busking in Boston to satire in Seattle.
Because let’s face it: not only are we all going to die someday, but we’re all going to experience the loss of our loved ones, if we haven’t already.
In Being Mortal, doctor and writer Atul Gawande discusses end-of-life care. He takes us through the history of gerontology, assisted living, and provides countless sets of data and anecdotes. Through it all, Gawande says that the medical community as well as patients’ families treat patients as subjects rather than as human beings. It’s rare that we consult the patient on what they really want. But Gawande says that we need to ask people what is important to them, what parts of their lifestyles are they determined to keep.
He gives insight into what the end of life means for different people, and arms listeners with questions to ask, decisions to make, and conversations to start.
But he doesn’t give clear answers. It’s different for everyone. Each individual case is just that—individual. While listening, I couldn’t help but think of my two grandfathers. One, an Indiana farmboy lived a healthy lifestyle but suffered the last years of his life. The other, a white-collar worker with a little too much interest in fun, faced complications at the age of 90, and died relatively peacefully a few months later. I don’t think it gets much more individual than that.
Like me, everyone will bring their own experiences, their own family histories to this book, homing in on the things that we’ve faced in our own lives.
It’s not always comfortable to think about these things. Nobody wants to say to their aging grandmother, “So, you probably have, what? Five good years left? What do you want that to look like?” This book prompts us to ask those questions (though hopefully a little more tactfully).
As for me, I’ve talked to my wife, Dianne, and told her that I believe in quality over quantity of life. I don’t think it’s doing justice to a person to prolong their life if it makes them miserable. But again, it’s individual.
One thing’s for sure. This book is as thought provoking as it is necessary.
Being Mortal is our September Book of the Month. Get it now for $17.95.