Prism magazine has run a terrific excerpt from The Art of Dying. It gives a sens of the whole book, rather than simply a portion of a chapter. I hope you’ll read it and explore Prism as well. The excerpt begins:
Our culture simply doesn’t know what to think about death. Through medicine and science we know more about how to forestall death than ever before, yet we know very little about caring for a dying person. We
don’t know what to expect or how to prepare for our own death. And we’re often awkward at best when trying to comfort a friend in grief.
Caring for elderly parents is typically our first prolonged and engaged confrontation with death. Even then, however, doctors and nurses often guide us through the experience. It’s not unusual for children to care for their parents from a distance, calling doctors or arranging transportation and nursing care, further removing us from face-to-face interaction with death and dying.
When we are finally called on to be with a dying loved one, we must learn on the fly what to do and how to behave. This is a drastic change from the days when dying was a more familiar, if equally unwelcome, presence. “All the things that once prepared us for death,” writes journalist Virginia Morris, “regular experience with illness and death, public grief and mourning, a culture and philosophy of death, interaction with the elderly, as well as the visibility of our own aging — are virtually gone from our lives.”
Over the course of the first half of the 20th century, the site of death moved from the home to the hospital. In 1908, 14 percent of all deaths occurred in an institutional setting, either a hospital, nursing home, or other facility. By the end of the century it was nearly 80 percent. As death moved out of the home, people became less familiar with the sights and sounds of the very ill. We now keep death at a distance.
Please read the whole article here.