on dying well [a book and a radio show]

This past week I received and read an advance review copy of Changing How We Die: Compassionate End of Life Care and the Hospice Movement by Fran Smith and Sheila Himmel (Viva Editions, 2013). The reading involved a lot of spontaneous weeping on public transit, which I tried not to feel ashamed about: Big emotions are pretty appropriate where end-of-life narratives and choices are concerned. I couldn't even tell you what emotion I was feeling that prompted tears other than BIG -- it was joy, grief, surprise, longing, anger, fear, gratitude, all wrapped up in the moment at hand.

My paternal grandfather died at home in hospice care, and the whole family was grateful that they made it possible for him to die well in many respects.

I hadn't thought about it before reading Changing How We Die, but the modern hospice care  movement-- having grown out of the countercultural moment of the 1970s in many ways -- shares a lot with the homebirth/midwifery/doula and homeschooling/unschooling movements. No wonder it feels like "of course" to me in many ways: an impulse toward low-intervention, person-centered care; placing the individual (laboring mother, learner, dying person) in the decision-making role; providing mindful, non judgmental support; holistic attention to all aspects of being; a preference for home-based rather than institutional care. I'm curious whether anyone has thought to look at the homebirth/homeschool/hospice movements as a continuum of care across the lifecycle, and what placing these movements side-by-side might teach us about lessons learned and possible future directions.

Food for thought.

Then, the radio came on this morning in time for "On Being" with Krista Tippett and it was an interview with Dr. Ira Byock who works in palliative medicine and hospice care. If you're interested in the question of how we die -- and what it might look like to die well -- I highly recommend listening to the podcast or reading the transcript.

Audio here.

Transcript here.

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