I recently saw a photo of someone wearing a t-shirt that said, “Keep calm and talk about death”. Cheeky. I liked it. In many parts of North-America, death is a delicate topic. People don’t know how to talk about it. So, every once in awhile I read a book about death. Here are three of my favourites.
- Caitlin Doughty’s From Here to Eternity Travelling the World to Find the Good Death (perspective from a mortician)
If you like a book with a bit of humor, this is an excellent book. Caitlin explores how a few different cultures deal with death including the United States, Japan, Spain, and Indonesia. This is a great book to help reflect on what you want to happen to you body when you die. Personally, I had always thought cremation, but a natural burial with the idea of giving your body to the earth seemed like a better fit for me after reading this book. This book also reflects on the culture of grief in different countries. In North-America we have lost ritual and ceremony and conversation about grief.
- Paul Kalanithi – When Breath Becomes Air (perspective from someone diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in his 30s)
I remember listening to an interview with Paul’s wife after he had passed away. She talked about how her husband didn’t feel like a victim when he was diagnosed with cancer, just minutes prior to becoming a neurosurgeon. She is a doctor too and reflected that bad things happen to good people all the time, so why couldn’t something like this happen to them too? This book is wise, poetic, reflective, and moving.
- Atul Awande – Being Mortal (a surgeon and son’s perspective on death)
This book is about what happens when a person is elderly and needs more care than can be provided in their current environment. Atul explores the complexity of choosing nursing homes or keeping elderly parents at home. He wisely compares the pros and cons of both from his own experience. People can feel guilty about choosing one option over the other, and he helps minimize the stigma of your choice.
Hamilton and Burlington Area Resources
A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop with Rachelle McGuire, Director of Bob Kemp Hospice. If you are currently struggling with grief it can feel very isolating, and you are not alone in this feeling. In Rachelle’s workshop she talked about shifting the culture and conversation around death in north America. She talked about shifting grief from a clinical problem to a natural response to circumstance. Individual therapy can be helpful, but community involvement with others who have been through something similar can help normalize your response to grief and connect with others who have been there too.
The Bob Kemp Hospice has a great list of other resources on their website for those in Ontario or the Hamilton area. Sometimes being with others who have had a similar experience as you can be very healing and sometimes a group can be too intimidating. You know yourself best – choose the best fit for you.