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APC Forum Resource Reviews September 2018


APC Forum, September 2018, Vol. 20 No. 6



Being Mortal:  Medicine and What Matters in the End
Atul Gawande (New York:  Picador Books, 2014, 287 pages, hardcover, softcover, Ebook, Audiobook, Audio CD)
 
I offered to review Being Mortal:  Medicine and What Matters in the End for a professional chaplaincy group, and it was also recommended to me by a medical student from the academic medical center that I serve.  It was important to hear a medical student say to me that I should read this book.  The student's suggestion carried weight, and I was glad to know that it was a book worth my time, according to his opinion. 
 
It is not common to see surgeons writing books on "end-of-life care" and the "limits of medicine," but that's exactly what this book discusses.  It is must read for those who work in a hospital, hospice, or ministerial/chaplain position, and I highly recommend it to you.
 
As I was reading the book, I was impressed with one question:  What has really led Gawande into these deep waters of discussing "end-of-life" care in the medical setting?  Towards the middle-latter part of the book, the writer introduces his own struggle of caring for his father who was dealing with life-limiting and life-threatening chronic illness.  Gawande shares very candid stories that touch not only on his role as a son to his dying father, but also on his role as a physician committed to helping people to maximize life.  He also discusses his relationship to his mother, who served as primary caregiver to his father during the protracted illness and subsequent death of his father.  Caregivers carry a heavy burden in end-of-life care, and this book shares illuminating stories that highlight the hard road that caregivers walk.
 
I would like to offer two personal criticisms on the book.  First, there is very little explicit discussion of spirituality as it relates to end-of-life care discussed in the book.  In Gawande's defense, he does share the touching story of his father's Hindu beliefs and the ritual of placing cremains of loved ones in the sacred Ganges River.  Secondly, Gawande does not discuss the delicate topic of pediatric end-of-life care, which, in his defense, may be too far from his writing goal.  Pediatric end-of-life care is different from dealing with older adults who are facing end of life; his perspective on this topic would have been a valuable addition.
 
Being Mortal would be an excellent academic and inspirational read for any chaplain or minister.  It would help younger chaplains to know what lies ahead for them in their work, and it would help veteran chaplains to read a surgeon’s discussion of end-of-life care.  This book could be used in a book club or church group since it has a nice section at the end with discussion questions.   It will greatly help family members dealing with their loved ones’ end-of-life challenges, too.
 
Finally, the book publisher provided a DVD copy of the PBS documentary (February 10, 2015) that is a corollary to this book titled “Being Mortal,” and it has some excellent real footage of patients and families discussing end-of-life treatment and decisions by patients, families, and clinicians.  It is worth watching and could be used for group discussion, as well. 
 
Reviewed by Rev. George M. Rossi, MA MDiv BCC, Clinical Chaplain, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.



Finding Magic: A Spiritual Memoir
Sally Quinn (New York, New York: Harper One, 2017, 416 pages, hardcover, softcover, Ebook, MP3 CD, Audiobook)

Sally Quinn was part of a military family who travelled the world, but ended up in Washington, D. C., when her father became a four-star general.  She was eventually hired as a reporter for the Washington Post by editor Ben Bradlee, whom she later married.  Her connections in Washington, D. C., allowed her to mingle with a lot of powerful people.
 
Finding Magic: A Spiritual Memoir is about Quinn’s development spiritually as she tried on, she confesses, a number of positions, beliefs, denominations, and faiths over the years.  The memoir is divided into three equal parts: Magic, Mystery, and Meaning.  These themes are indicative of her movement spiritually to find meaning. Some of Quinn’s development spiritually came from her beginning the “On Faith” segment of the Post, which originally was an online chat room, talking about all things related to faith.  She borrowed the Jewish saying “Tikkun Olam,” a concept that encourages acts of kindness to “repair the world,” as the theme this new endeavor of the Post would advance.
 
A prominent aspect to Quinn’s spiritual development was the birth of her son, Quinn, who had learning disabilities.  A second influence was when Ben Bradlee, her husband, developed dementia and she had to care for him.  These challenges brought her into the realm of ritual and love and sacrifice that gave meaning to her developing faith.

A real strength in the book is seeing how Quinn grieved for the first year after the death of her husband.  She wore black clothes, a sign of grieving, for months.  On the one-year anniversary, a Jewish ritual called yahrzeit (year time) was celebrated, where only Quinn spoke.  She talked about all her grief and yearning.  There is a lot to be learned by her honesty and expressions of dealing with her grief.  In the end, she has faith in the power of love—love given and love received.  Those expressions of love are what gave her meaning.

Our culture is enamored by the celebrities of our world.  Reading this book provides a glimpse into that world in the Washington, D.C., area, centering on the Washington Post, which after all was an Academy Award winner last year in the film industry.

As a gifted journalist, Sally Quinn can express her feelings, emotions, and intuitions in an honest and genuine way.  As she honestly tells the reader, she is still on the journey of developing her faith and is open to all avenues that contribute to meaning in her life as she seeks to find magic.  I won’t give it all away, but she means all avenues.  You will have to read to find out!

Reviewed by Mark A. Weiler, DMin BCC, Staff Chaplain, North Colorado Medical Center, Greeley, Colorado.



A Matter of Life and Death:  60 Voices Share Their Wisdom

Rosalind Bradley (London and Philadelphia:  Jessica Kingsley, 2016, softcover, Ebook)
 
In A Matter of Life and Death:  60 Voices Share Their Wisdom, Rosalind Bradley, an Englishwoman who has lived for over thirty years in Australia, has collected the reflections of an amazing diversity of people (profession, age, gender, ethnic and racial identity, religion) on the subject of death.  Her mother’s sudden death from cardiac arrest began the journey of contemplation, further deepened by the death of two friends.  Bradley states, “I felt even more driven to come to terms with my own mortality and face up to my own death, my own fears and how I wanted to live the rest of my life” (23).  These thoughts led her to appreciate the good in her life more deeply, to discern what is most important to her more frequently, and to discuss death with friends and family more thoughtfully, particularly her end-of-life wishes (23-24).
 
The book is divided into the following parts:
  1. Personal Encounters with Death: the “reshaping” of a life after another’s death
  2. Death Brings Us Wisdom: the effect of death on daily life
  3. Working Closely with Death: the insights of those who work closely with the dying
  4. Death and the Circle of Life: the natural life cycle of life and death
  5. Death is Sacred: multicultural and multifaith perspectives on death. (22)
 
In addition to a reflection, each author includes quotations or images that reflect his or her perspective on death.  The “Further Verses” pages at the end of each part present more words of wisdom from a variety of writers, philosophers, religious texts, and more.  As a result of its structure and content, the book is best savored in short reading sessions, with time given to personal rumination, rather than reading straight through.
 
The subtitle is apt:  each piece of writing comes across as a distinct voice speaking to the reader, providing a gem upon which to reflect.  The sixty individuals speak their unique truth, based on their own experience as those who have been bereaved or ministered to those who grieve.  Although each voice is unique in circumstance and viewpoint, the theme is the same:  “Without suffering and death human life cannot be complete” (Victor Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning, 107).  Death is a mystery, at times horrible, but ultimately beautiful, an unavoidable process that results in wisdom, meaning, and purpose.
 
These voices will resonate with chaplains who daily minister to the sick and dying, providing reflection on their own experiences as ministers and human beings.  Such reflection upon one’s own beliefs and practice may assist in both self-care and professional development.  The wealth of quotations may be useful for use in memorial services or as meditations for CPE students who are struggling to make sense of their pastoral care experiences.
 
Above all, Bradley’s hope is that all readers’ lives are transformed in the same manner as hers as they contemplate their own inevitable journey with Death:  “As one contributor neatly put it, ‘death is a comma, not a full stop’. Whether you accept that premise or not, the fact remains that we are all in transit and need to face up to the reality of our own death.  How we deal with that realization is at the heart of this book” (24).
 
Reviewed by Tamara R. Flinchum, BCC SD, chaplain at AnMed Health, Anderson, SC.