A book was published at the end of last year which is a must-read for anyone who wants to try and understand the end-of-life - as distinct from the ending-life - debate. Kathryn Mannix was a consultant in palliative medicine and a hospice doctor. She is also a qualified Cognitive Behaviour Therapist. She has been involved in treating and caring for, literally, thousands of people as they died and who were, in some cases, struggling not only with their illnesses but also with issues in their personal and family lives, with their hopes and their fears, and with making sense of what was happening to them.
Kathryn takes her readers through a series of anonymised stories of death and dying, many of which are heart-rending and bring us face to face with some uncomfortable truths, not the least of which is that dying is not just something for other people but what we will all have deal with sooner or later. The book challenges us to look into ourselves and to ask: what do I know about dying? how does modern medicine fit into it? where does the boundary lie between treating illness and allowing death to occur in peace and with dignity? what are the real fears that beset us when we die and how can they be addressed? In a word, it is a book that brings us face to face with our mortality and forces us to contemplate it.
And yet, this book is full of comfort, even of hope. By describing the process of dying, Kathryn names our fears and helps us to calm them by giving us insight and understanding. This is a book to shine a light into a truth we avoid and deny, and that light reveals unexpected treasures.
This is not a book about 'assisted dying' (in the political sense in which that term is euphemistically used). It is far more profound than that. It seeks to understand serious illness and dying, why some people suffer physical, emotional or existential angst as they approach death and how those difficult situations can, with the right care and sensitivity, be unravelled and the sufferers brought to peace. In a word, it is about real assistance with dying. It is one of those rare books in which, in many of the stories that Kathryn tells, we see ourselves as in a mirror.
"With the End in Mind", by Kathryn Mannix, Published by William Collins, 2017