September 28, 2015

Being Mortal Offers Guidance for Families Facing Serious Illness

“As our time winds down, we all seek comfort in simple pleasures,” Atul Gawande writes in his bestseller, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, “companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight on our faces.”

Yet so often modern medicine treats those who are aging or dying as simply bodies—bodies to fix at all costs, even if it means more pain and fewer opportunities to enjoy life. Gawande argues that we need to rethink the way we age and die in America today, to see these not just as medical experiences, but as deeply personal, human experiences. How do you live a meaningful life, even when you’re sick or unable to fend for yourself?

Being Mortal offers important guidance for all people, but those caring for an ill loved one may find its stories particularly valuable. What Gawande finds, from the range of people he interviews, is that what matters in the end is not so different from what matters in the beginning, or the middle, and these come down to:

Home: “Home is the one place where your own priorities hold sway,” Gawande writes. Most people prefer to live their final months at home. Gawande uses hospice care as a successful example of how we can make a person’s remaining time rich and dignified.

Privacy and control:  People don’t want to have what they eat and drink, what they wear and when they sleep or bathe dictated to them every day. Personal freedom remains important regardless of physical constraints.

Purpose: People, no matter their age or medical condition, want to lead a life that is meaningful. Simply giving someone a plant to keep alive, Gawande says, can bring a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment.

Everyday pleasures: Gawande urges people to think about what makes a day worth living for them—being able to watch a movie, eat ice cream or enjoy a grandchild’s presence—and to seek care that will enable these experiences to happen.

Gawande will be a guest speaker at the Bryan Series on October 20. Are you interested in joining a discussion about Being Mortal?  Those who haven’t read the book are welcome. For help navigating a serious illness, call 336.621.2500 and for more resources, visit our caregiver support page.