A fine blend of memoir, contemplation, and reporting by a woman who spent more than 20 years as a counselor in a Victoria, British Columbia, hospice.
Joseph (The Secret Signature of Things, 2010, etc.), an award-winning Canadian poet, explores the interconnections between death, language, and art. She has taken her title from a quote by a 17th-century Japanese dramatist: “Art is something that lies in the slender margin between the real and the unreal.” She writes that the world inhabited by the dead is that same slender margin, and metaphors are both the engine of poetry and the language of dying. The author moves through mythology, history, spiritual beliefs, and funeral and burial customs, including wonderful tales from her personal experiences, all in the interest of taking readers deeper into the grieving process. The accidental death of her older brother when she was a child opens the book, and she returns to this topic throughout. Her decision to become a palliative care counselor was an attempt, she writes, to gain intimacy with her brother by becoming intimate with death. Joseph is mostly unflinching about the act of dying, which she likens to birth in that both are transitions and involve stages of breathing and hard labor. If this sounds like a gloomy or depressing book, it is not. The author writes with humor and grace, lines of other poets appear frequently in her text, and references to films, books, plays, and pop music abound. Joseph also instructs readers on the origins of such words as “palliative,” “morphine,” and “columbarium.” This is not a how-to book, however; grieving readers will not find a road map to closure, but they can join a curious mind in a journey of exploration.
A literate, free-association meditation on the final fact of life.