Being Mortal: Medicine and
What Matters in the End
By Atul Gawande
Doubleday, 2014. 304 pages.
$32 (e-book $10.99)
author and surgeon Atul
Gawande’s book on old age and terminal
illness is brutally honest about the frailty of
life and the difficulty of death. Doctors and
health care institutions, Gawande argues, are
systematically failing the dying because they
focus on staving off death when they should
be concerned with appreciating life.
The book deals first with the problems
of old age, particularly in nursing homes.
To demonstrate that our current practices
have robbed the elderly of joy and hope, he
weaves together elements of psychology,
history, sociology and personal anecdotes.
The stories are full of agony and triumph.
Gawande then moves from the elderly
to the terminally ill. His stories here are not
for the faint of heart. A young mother, for
example, dies in agony from lung cancer.
Gawande argues eloquently that her health
care providers failed her because they kept
offering her options to treat her untreatable
cancer, rather than helping her and her
family prepare peacefully for her death.
Of interest to Canadians (in light of
the recent Supreme Court decision on
euthanasia), Gawande writes only a few
paragraphs on assisted suicide. Although he
does not dismiss euthanasia outright, he is
much more focused on the advantages of
hospice care, which he argues are many.
His writing style is absolutely lovely. He
effortlessly unites personal stories and
medical theories, and the book has a clear and
unobtrusive structure. Gawande never shies
away from terrifying questions, but writes with
a compassionate and self-reflective manner.
Although Gawande never takes an
explicitly Christian approach to the end of
life, the book contains many resonances
with the scriptural purpose of life and the
manner in which we die. Gawande’s book is
an outstanding resource for anyone who will
confront death, which, whether by old age or
illness, includes us all. –DEANNA SMID
What I Know for Sure
By Oprah Winfrey
Flatiron Books, 2014.
240 pages. $28.99
I PICKED UP Oprah
Winfrey’s What I Know
for Sure with a measure of skepticism. She
is known, after all, as the queen of pop
psychology, and I fully anticipated that her
musings on life might be “wisdom lite” and not
much in line with my tastes.
I was pleasantly surprised. Clearly, in her
61 years, Oprah has earned her stripes and
gleaned a good measure of wisdom. In the
book she is part coach, part counsellor, part
coffee shop girlfriend – championing and
encouraging readers to seize hold of life and
make the best of it.
Each of the brief essays in the book has
been pulled from 14 years’ worth of her
“What I Know for Sure” columns in O, The
Oprah Magazine. They’ve been updated,
revised and organized around eight key
themes – joy, resilience, connection,
gratitude, possibility, awe, clarity and power.
If the book could be synthesized into 50
words of what Oprah knows for sure, it would
say become the best self you can be, don’t
waste time looking for love in the wrong
places, love yourself, have courage to follow
your dreams no matter what others think, be
fully conscious and alive, pursue stillness and
silence, live with gratitude and generosity,
and be attentive and joyful in the moment.
Throughout the book she frequently
refers to God and God’s role in our lives.
She assumes a personal relationship, and
while it’s never overly theological, it’s not
Her book won’t take the place of deeper
spiritual reflection and contemplation, but
she’s candid, charming and honest, and the
book sparkles with old-fashioned common
sense and insight. –MARLA KONRAD
Creation (Chinese ink and paint on rice paper) by William Ho.
www.theonegallery.ca / “The earth was formless and void. Then God said,
‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. From there and then God created
the beautiful and best stardusts, galaxies, and the world we can possibly
imagine, the sky, the mountains and valleys. And then us, the human
beings – His love! And masterpieces of art!”
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