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Book Review : Being Mortal

It has taken me a while to write this. I didn’t want to write the standard, “This is an amazing book and you must read it!” It is a important book. I think that if DONs (Director of Nursing – usually the title of the person who makes the decisions in long-term care facilities) across the country read this book, we would have a massive revolution in elder care.

I also wanted to let it sink in. There is a fair amount of philosophy mixed into this book.  What is life worth? What makes life worth living? What are the important things? The answer to these questions are different for everyone. Added to which, we can’t make decisions for people unless we know the answers to those questions. Unless we have the courage to ask these questions, and unless we know how to ask these questions, we have no idea how to answer the question, “What would he or she want?”

Being Mortal is about the fact that when we get old  there are things  that we want.  Respect, as much independence as possible, some sort of meaning. We all want to live life our way. Age doesn’t change that. We all want our lives to have meaning, or some sort of point. Age doesn’t change that either.

What are the trade-offs we are willing to make? Under what circumstances can we actually live, or are we merely being alive? Living takes courage and maturity and making choices. Above all else, we don’t want to be merely alive.

Here is a quote that sort of hit home with me.

“At least two kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness. The first is the courage to confront the reality of mortality—the courage to seek out the truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped. Such courage is difficult enough. We have many reasons to shrink from it. But even more daunting is the second kind of courage—the courage to act on the truth we find. The problem is that the wise course is so frequently unclear. For a long while, I thought that this was simply because of uncertainty. When it is hard to know what will happen, it is hard to know what to do. But the challenge, I’ve come to see, is more fundamental than that. One has to decide whether one’s fears or one’s hopes are what should matter most.”

I hope we can all be courageous enough to live our lives from a place of hope.

This is also a personal decision for the author, when his father starts declining. Achieving a good death is not an easy thing, for the person dying or for the people who are being left behind.

I absolutely recommend this book. It will make you think.

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