No one can avoid death. So, why then, is it so hard to talk about it?

A large part has to do with how the medical community approaches the end of a person’s life.

“We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being,” writes Atul Gawande in his book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Metropolitan Books, 2014).

Too often doctors promote treatments that don’t really extend a person’s life, and certainly don’t help with the quality of it. They don’t listen to what is important to the patient.

Gawande, who is a surgeon, takes readers on the evolution of him understanding his role as a care-giver should go beyond the scalpel. The merits of palliative and hospice care come into clear focus.

What makes the book compelling are the stories about the people he interacted with, including his father. Reading about the difficult, yet, necessary conversations between patients and doctors, and patient and families made me think about the conversations I have had and the ones I haven’t had.

The book also delves into how nursing homes and assisted living places came into being.

This is a book everyone should read because we are all going to die and we all know someone who will go before us.

In some ways it is depressing. Death always seems to invoke that emotion, so how could a book all about the end of life not at least be sobering.

I thank my friend, Sally, for telling me about this book. It was hard to read at times, but I feel like I am more aware for having done so.

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