Report from the Igloo

On Being Mortal

Is it because I’ll be seventy-seven in two days and that somehow sounds much older than seventy-six? Or is it that a lot more attention is being paid to the need to think and talk about the end-of-life?

Atul Gawande, surgeon and gifted writer, (who once operated on me) has written a thoughtful new book exploring how we talk  (or don’t talk) about dying, and just this past week, he was featured on an excellent PBS’ Frontline documentary on that subject.

Studies have shown that most of us want to die at home, that hospice care   offers an easier death than heroic measures in intensive care units and that help in accepting the inevitable allows “better” deaths.  End-of-life conversations are not easy for doctors because they have been trained to save us.  Nor are they easy for their patients.  But they are essential.

Peter and I have made our wishes clear.  As we watched the interviews on Frontline with those who were willing to share their last days with us, we were impressed by their courage and grace in accepting that nothing further could be done.

And we were reminded once again that each day is precious.



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Liz Drahman

I too watched the Frontline piece with Atul Gawande, a man to be much admired. It was difficult to watch because my father passed away two weeks ago. On the other hand, it was affirming because after caring for my father 24/7 for seven years, he died in his bedroom with the help of wonderful, caring, skilled hospice nurses. Since then there have been moments when I've thought maybe we could have done more but after having been with my mother when she died in the hospital seven years ago, I know that what we have been able to do for my father in his illness of advanced dementia was right for him. My much younger sister died in hospice care six months ago after being in the 5% survival group of terminal brain cancer for seven years (seven seems to the number for us). I so wanted her to pursue options but she was tired and made that difficult decision at the age of 58. There is no easy way to let go of life but my husband and I are certain of what we want and don't want when that time comes. Thank you for writing about this at this moment in time.


I'm reading Atul Gawande's book right now. I was inspired to get it after hearing him do an interview on our national radio programme here in New Zealand. Thanks for the link; I look forward to watching the documentary Atul Gawande talks a lot of sense, about a subject that is too often left hidden.

Karen Gonzales

I watched the frontline program and thank you for sharing it, I'm 65 and am just now starting to think about the future and my imortality, so it was very interesting to me. Thank you

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