Three Books About Dying

picture of an hourglass

There is no way around it: we will all die someday. The dread (or relief) that comes with that realization has long been a topic for research and discussion. How can you accept an end screen, knowing that the world goes on and you won’t be there to see it? These books might give some insight. These are not about death and the cultural implications that come with it -I will reserve for a later post. All of these three books are about the experience of knowing you will die soon and figuring out what that means.

 

cover of 'everything happens for a reason' with text

 

Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved

In this memoir, Kate Bowler talks about being diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Bowler is a professor and she has devoted her academic research to the prosperity gospel: the belief of certain groups of Christians that if you do good and think well, good things will happen to you. She published an earlier book about it in 2013. In the prosperity gospel’s line of thinking, this diagnosis should be her own fault. And if she’d want it badly enough, and perform and think well enough, there might still be a cure. Researching and teaching a topic like that has just become a lot harder.

The most interesting part for me about this memoir is her story about publishing an article in a newspaper about her diagnosis and about how it has affected her. Comments, letters, e-mails poured in. Thousands of people wanted to give their opinion. There was support, but there was also a lot of ill-placed advice, blaming and judgement. Bowlers shows how she has experienced this, and gives wonderful advice on how not be one of those dicks.

 

cover of 'now and at the hour of our death' with pink flowers

 

Now and at the Hour of Our Death

Now and at the Hour of Our Death is written by Susana Moreira Marques and translated from Portuguese into English by Julia Sanches. Moreira Marques is a journalist who travelled through a remote, northern part of Portugal together with a palliative team to observe their care. This book is made up of two parts. Part one consists of poetic travel notes and thoughts from the author. Part two contains the words of the people the author has visited: the stories of their lives and the stories of their deaths. There is news, then endurance, and ultimately loss and death. There is no other way these things can go. It’s a very emotional read, but one worth your time.

 

cover of 'dying: a memoir' with birds

 

Dying: a Memoir

Dying is a memoir from Australia, written by Cory Taylor, who has been diagnosed with brain cancer that is no longer treatable. It mostly holds philosophical thoughts about dying, reflections on life, and a lot of relationship exploring. Taylor is not religious, so it’s interesting to hear a story like this where there’s a search for meaning, but one that does not have a special focus on the afterlife. Notable is Taylor’s attention to her youth and the relationships she has formed with her family. We get to hear quite a lot about her parents and what role they have played in her life.

 

cover of 'when breath becomes air' with text

 

What’s next?

Reading about dying might sound like a morbid activity, but it helps me understand what it’s like. It’s inevitable anyway, might as well learn about it before it’s too late! It also gives me a better understanding of what people might need or want when they know that they will die soon, which can only make me a better friend and more compassionate citizen.

I’ve seen some hype around a book called When Breath Becomes Air, written by a doctor called Paul Kalanith who passed away in 2015. Being a doctor, and then transforming into a patient -that sounds like a difficult but interesting story. Hopefully I will get to read it soon.

Do you have any recommendations? What book about dying has left a strong impact on you?

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