Journalist Neumann, a visiting scholar at the New York University Center for Religion and Media, takes an unflinching look at the reality of dying and end-of-life decisions.
“Knowing death makes facing it bearable,” writes the author in this chronicle of her six-year quest to come to terms with the death of her father. “There is no good death….It always hurts, both the dying and the left behind. But there is a good enough death.” Determined to follow her father's wish to die at home, the author and her sister tried unsuccessfully to care for him with support from hospice. He had decided after a 10-year bout with cancer to stop treatment, but the quiet death he envisaged was not to be. His pain proved intractable, and he was hospitalized. Two years later, still struggling with grief in the aftermath of her father's death, the author decided to become a volunteer for hospice. As a lay visitor her task was to offer companionship to the dying. The expectation is that hospice patients will not live longer than six months—though some do. The aim is to make their last days as painless as possible, not to prolong their lives. Neumann writes movingly of the experiences she shared with the people she visited: an elderly musician suffering from Parkinson's disease who wanted to hold his guitar once again despite his inability to play it, an 80-year-old doctor suffering from lung cancer, hoping to write an autobiography, and more. She also deals with deeper questions: what constitutes death for a person on life support who cannot give informed consent for its removal; does assisted suicide, which she supports, devalue human life and possibly curtail the rights of the disabled? Neumann does not sugarcoat the harsh reality of dying. “It always hurts both the dying and the left behind,” she writes.
A valuable discussion of the complex issues involved in end-of-life care.