Dying Well, Living Well: Two New Books

Two new books about dying well and living well—including living well while dying.

I. The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life by Katy Butler

Katy Butler is an expert on end-of-life challenges. Her new book The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life follows her previous Knocking on Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death.

In a piece (“The Ultimate End-of-Life Plan“) Butler adapted from Knocking on Heaven’s Door, the author states:

Why don’t we die the way we say we want to die? In part because we say we want good deaths but act as if we won’t die at all. In part because advanced lifesaving technologies have erased the once-bright line between saving a life and prolonging a dying. In part because saying ‘Just shoot me’ is not a plan. Above all, we’ve forgotten what our ancestors knew: that preparing for a ‘good death’ is not a quickie process to save for the panicked ambulance ride to the emergency room. The decisions we make and refuse to make long before we die help determine our pathway to the final reckoning.

From the publisher’s description of Butler’s newest:

The Art of Dying Well is about living as well as possible for as long as possible and adapting successfully to change…Butler shows how to thrive in later life (even when coping with a chronic medical condition), how to get the best from our health system, and how to make your own ‘good death’ more likely…

Butler explains how to successfully age in place, why to pick a younger doctor and how to have an honest conversation with her, when not to call 911, and how to make your death a sacred rite of passage rather than a medical event.

A suitable intro to Butler’s work is her Video Tips on End of Life.

II. The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams

On a more personal level is The Unwinding of the Miracle: A Memoir of Life, Death, and Everything That Comes After by Julie Yip-Williams, who died last year at the age of 42 from advanced colon cancer.

Kirkus Reviews summarizes:

The diagnosis came in 2013…Yip-Williams had two daughters, both early in elementary school, and her grief at not being able to be with them—to see them grow and mature—is palpable throughout. Along the way, the author considers a fundamental question: Is it more courageous to keep struggling (trying new meds and procedures, seeing new specialists) or to surrender to the inevitable? Eventually, she realizes, she will have to do the latter, and she enters hospice care.

Reviewers have pointed out that the author’s book, which originated from the blog she wanted to write partly for her daughters’ sake, is largely about how to live while dying.

Lori Gottlieb, New York Times:

Unlike the woman in her support group who, after being given a terminal prognosis, defiantly declares, ‘Dying is not an option,’ Yip-Williams prepares meticulously for her death while paying close attention to the life she will one day miss: ‘the simple ritual of loading and unloading the dishwasher. … making Costco runs. … watching TV with Josh. … taking my kids to school.’

Matthew Teague, The Guardian:

‘Because of my insistence on honesty in confronting death, my girls show an emotional maturity, compassion and appreciation for life rarely seen in children at their age,’ she writes. ‘I have lived even as I am dying, and therein lies a certain beauty and wonder. As it turns out, I have spent these years unwinding the miracle that has been my life, but on my own terms.’

You can read the obituary her husband Josh wrote about Yip-Williams’s incredible life here.

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