Posted in Writing Life

*Please Read This

I am going to give you a link to an article that I want you to read. I am crying as I write this post, crying because of the poignancy, urgency, and truth of it.

I’m in my early 50’s. I hang out with a lot of younger people because of my late-bloomerishness. Life has led me to have kids late, to start my career late and to take longer with it. I feel younger because of that and also because my life has gotten better with every decade. My childhood was dreadful and the further I get from it the happier I feel, now in the best shape I have ever been, physically and emotionally.

Sometimes I feel like a little kid, sometimes a teenager, sometimes an adult in full power, and–occasionally–when my knees hurt or my period gets weirder (when it comes), my chronological age.

And I realize my time is limited.

None of us know how much life we have left. But our culture encourages us to imagine that there is no limit, and it doesn’t provide any of us with the skills to face ourselves with the reality. How do we talk about death and dying? How do we love each other through it?

In “Letting Go,” Dr. Atul Guwande, a surgeon and an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, writes with honesty, courage, compassion, and self-examination about the reality, not only from the patient’s point of view or the patient’s family’s, but also the doctors’.

I’m not quoting from this article because it is too hard to extract a single paragraph from an essay so thoughtful, moving and thought provoking. Read it for yourself. Let me know what you think.

h/t Ed Yong



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

16 thoughts on “*Please Read This

  1. Lilian, I have lost many friends to caner in the last year or three, many of them older, but there were several young ones. I read the article and cried too…

  2. I read that article last week at some point and admired it greatly. I like everything Guwande writes, actually, and I’m lucky to get to read him frequently in The New Yorker. I agree with everything he says, to put it simply.

  3. That was an extremely powerful article. Thank you for sharing it. Over the past 18 months, I have been the medical advocate for three of my elderly relatives who have died. Hospice care was invaluable, and I’m so grateful for the physicians who were brave enough to help me make that decision.

  4. My sister died of lung cancer two years ago. None of the ‘treatments’ she endured did anything to help as the cancer spread throughout her body. She refused to acknowledge it was terminal and it was terrible. This article says it all – letting go is the only answer.

  5. I couldn’t bring myself to read it – so sorry – as this is something I feel particularly tender about. I think it’s been all these years with chronic fatigue, painfully aware of my mortality. But I do know that I don’t believe in prolonging dying, which is what a lot of treatments risk doing, and that death can only be accepted as a final place of fullness, wherever it falls in a life. It’s partly the fact that science sort of encourages us to think it’s an outrage that makes it even harder than ever to accept.

  6. Once I started reading it, Lilian, I was compelled to continue and didn’t move from my chair until I’d finished. It strikes me as SUCH an important area – trying to find the art of dying in a culture that almost wants to insist it’s an affront. It’s not. It’s the single absolute, the sole inevitability of our existence, so it desperately wants accepting. By the same token, modern medicine is a wonderful, wonderful thing, but in these instances where, really, all hope is lost, I often find myself wondering what these horrible treatments achieve. They seem to overwhelm the very thing they seek to prolong, which is a life worth living.

  7. I must have read this the same day as you did, and I’m kicking myself that I haven’t been online enough recently to see what you wrote about it. I love Gawande’s work, I read his book Complications early this summer and just adored it. This particular essay for The New Yorker had me crying as well, not just for the personal stories he includes, (and some hit very close to home) but also because he gets to the heart of what is wrong with medicine today. I liked his phrase (which I’m probably getting somewhat incorrect here) about how we no longer know how to die.

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