Wednesday, May 15, 2013

'Knocking on Heaven's Door'

A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.  ~Stewart Alsop 

There are three guarantees in life:  We are born.  We pay taxes.  We die.

All three get more expensive as time goes by.  Birth used to be a simple thing; usually at home in bed, cared for and supported by midwives and doctors.  Family members milling about in the other room, anxious to see the newborn and comfort the mother.  Taxes...well, we all know about that.  And death.  The act of dying, so much like birth; usually at home in bed, cared for, loved, and supported by family members there to help us on our way to a new life.  My mother died in her own home, and my stepfather died in a hospice.

But now, death isn't so simple.  There is very little dignity left.  We are given so many options, too many choices, and we and our families are left confused, unaware of informed consent.  All are left out in the cold, and the dying are not being heard.

Katy Butler's new book, 'Knocking on Heaven's Door', is based on her acclaimed New York Times Magazine article, and it is a big 'eye-opener', written in a clear, yet passionate style.  It is full of important information that will help guide any of us going through the same experience.

Assuming that her aging parents would die on their own terms, Katy learned that she was very wrong.  Her father, who was sliding into dementia, was fitted with a pacemaker, which only prolonged his misery.  Her mother, on the other hand, was a stubborn, vital, artistic woman, who rebelled against her doctors, and died on her own terms.  The story also centers around the author's love/hate relationship with her parents, and how her father's illness brought them all closer.

Katy's story is one to which we can all relate.  The labyrinth of medical terminology, the questions left unanswered, the anger that overtakes us.  But it is the dying that have no voice.  They are left suffering, unable to convey their own wishes.  It is unfair of the medical community to keep a heart beating when it's owner wants to go gently into the night.

It was a depressing story, but a vital one.

And I'm glad I read it.

'Knocking on Heaven's Door' by Katy Butler, will be published in September 2013 by Scribner.

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