I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death is a memoir in the form of, yes, 17 brushes with death! The stories alternate from recent to distant past, and as they unfold we discover more details about the author’s disastrous childhood encephalitis, her worldwide wanderings, and her daughter’s deathly allergies. So yes, you DO want to read about 17 brushes with death; don’t be squeamish.
Tag Archives: death
The Friend is a clever novel within a novel that apparently focuses (very movingly) on loss, grief, and love between humans and dogs, but it’s also the story of a great friendship and a woman who might lose her mind to an obsession. Excellent!
Another book about death, so soon after My Father’s Wake? The Book of Resting Places: A Personal History of Where We Lay the Dead was also inspired by the death of the author’s father, but instead of campaigning for a different way of dying this author instead describes cryonics, an antique dealer with right-wing rants, the paintings of Canaletto, Catacomb-dwelling bacteria, and family history — in other words he travels widely and chaotically, always with a wonderful writing style but the result is quite chaotic, and lost my interest.
My Father’s Wake: How the Irish Teach Us to Live, Love, and Die is a meditation on how we die, fueled by how he was able to be with his father as he died, in his own house, surrounded by family members, neighbors, and friends who did not hesitate to talk about death. It’s beautifully written and engaging — and the author’s argument that death should be handled more openly and in the community is very appealing. It would be interesting to consider the societal cost of what he is recommending, however. His sister took care of his father for years while he was simply old, not yet sick and, at the very end of life, she, relatives, and neighbors all pitched in to help. It’s not entirely clear how far-flung families in which all adults work outside the home could make appropriate arrangements for his romantic notion to succeed entirely — but certainly hiding death from view is not a great system.
You may hesitate to pick up a book about end-of-life patients, but I hope you will read On Living, a beautiful and funny memoir by a hospice chaplain who sits with her charges and listens, offering acceptance and occasionally compassion (never pity!), encouraging them to speak to the members of their families about secrets they never divulged before, and admitting to us all that she sometimes composes grocery lists in her head instead of listening fully.
Egan says that her own brush with mental illness allows her to fully hear every patient’s story, however deluded. I think she’s just a very dedicated and skilled listener.
Cheerful topic, no? But that’s not the main problem of How to Get the Death You Want: A Practical and Moral Guide, which is that it is poorly organized, and little more than a platform for the The Final Exit Network, which advocates for patient-directed death. All well and good, I think, but it does not even begin to offer a solution for the types of death we may fear the most, perhaps, death after years of mental disability that would put us at the total mercy of the medical corps, which in turn needs to obey inflexible laws.
I suppose it’s a good thing to think and talk about how we want to die. But not by reading this book.
Breaking Sad: What to Say After Loss, What Not to Say, and When to Just Show Up is a compilation of personal stories from people who experienced various losses and who share their stories and their recollections of best and worst comments and help they received afterwards. Some of the “bad” comments are astonishingly insensitive; it would be most charitable to think that people are intimidated by death and blurt out these things without thinking.
What was more interesting to me were the recommendations for what to do and say. There were so many different approaches, reflecting the preferences of the receivers, so that piece of advice #1 is probably just that: adapt to the mourner. And don’t think you have to fill the silence with any words at all. Maybe that’s the hardest part.