Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Threshold: A Hospice Nurse's Encounters

by Larissa MacFarquhar
The New Yorker, July 11 & 18, 2016

The Threshold is a longish and moving piece follows a hospice nurse on her rounds in Brooklyn.  It is worth a close reading.  Excerpts follow:

The first modern hospice was founded in 1967, in London, by Cicely Saunders, who was both a doctor and a social worker: she wanted to offer homelike care that aimed to provide comfort and serenity rather than to prolong life.  Today roughly twice as many people in America die in hospice as die in hospital.

Hospice believes in caring not only for the patient but also for the family, and tries to address psychological and spiritual needs as well as physical ones.

Whenever Heather entered a patient’s home for the first time, she knew that she was walking into a long, long, complicated story that she understood nothing about, a story that was just then reaching its final crisis.  She wanted to care for her patients in a personal way, rather than racing from one task to another, one limb to the next—inserting an I.V. here, drawing blood there, scarcely noticing whose vein she was puncturing or whose arm she was holding.  She came to understand that touching itself was important, whether it healed or not; she had not realized this before she became a nurse.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Ars Moriendi in the 21st Century

Dr. Katherine McKenzie, an internist at Yale, describes how she and her family allowed her father to experience “a good death” based on an older philosophy called the “Art of Dying.  See “A Modern Ars Moriendi” (New England Journal of Medicine, June 2, 2016)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (2013)

On the most important level this a meditation on Barnes’ grief.  The chapter,
‘The Loss of Depth’, which comprises around half of the book’s length, is Barnes’ examination of his grief after the death of his wife, Pat Kavanagh.  It is candid to the point that when he moots the idea of suicide he reveals his preferred method (‘a hot bath, a glass of wine next to the taps, and an exceptionally sharp Japanese carving knife').

In ‘The Loss of Depth’ the love story is entwined in the narrative of grieving rather than parenthetically set aside, and entanglement this is the heart of the book.  There are many books in this genre, some on this blog.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Korean Funerary Portraits

There’s who you are, who you think you are and how you want to be remembered. For Koreans, funerary portraits, which honor the dead at funerals, symbolize all three.

This NY Times article sensitively addresses these portraits and gives a bit of background.  It also has a gallery of 20 such portraits.
Agnes Hwang, age 66, (by Juliana Sohn)

Shik Ja Hong, age 72. (by Juliana Sohn)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Coloring Your Way Through Grief

Deborah S. Derman, a professional grief counselor has suffered more than her fair share of grief. “The field of grief counseling sort of found me,” she said, “because I had such a long history of loss.”

Now, Dr. Derman has produced an intriguing new tool – an adult coloring book intended to help others “get through tough times.” Called “Colors of Loss and Healing,” the book consists of 35 pages of lavish illustrations to color, each relating to a word or phrase, like “one day at a time,” “bitter and sweet” and “resilience,” meant to evoke thoughts and feelings that can help to promote healing.

The book is meant to help people with losses of every kind, including illness, divorce, financial ruin, post-addiction — anything that might force people to redefine their identity.

Read Jane Broody’s excellent article in the March 17, 2016 NY Times: “Coloring Your Way Though Grief.”

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

In Gratitude (2016)

by Jenny Diski
In Gratitude,” is a different kind of cancer memoir, and an almost entirely platitude-free one; which is to say, it’s a book that pushes in five or six directions at once.

In part, it’s about her treatment and her onrushing frailties, and this material is plain-spoken, harrowing and invariably moving. It’s also the story of Ms. Diski’s youth and young adulthood, when she suffered from depression and withdrawal and was in and out of psychiatric hospitals, “rattling from bin to bin,” as she puts it.

To be published, May 117, 2016.