HarperCollins Publishers (AU)
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We're All Going to Die Kindle Edition
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About the Author
Leah Kaminsky, is a physician and award-winning writer. Her debut novel The Waiting Room won the prestigious Voss Literary Prize (Vintage Australia 2015, Harper Perennial US 2016). We're all Going to Die has been described as ‘a joyful book about death' (Harper Collins, 2016). She edited Writer MD (Knopf US, starred on Booklist) and co-authored Cracking the Code (Vintage 2015). Stitching Things Together was a finalist in the Anne Elder Poetry Award. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. (www.leahkaminsky.com)
- File Size : 875 KB
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print Length : 136 pages
- Enhanced Typesetting : Enabled
- Publisher : HarperCollins (1 June 2016)
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B00RSKZOQ0
- Best Sellers Rank: 281,594 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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There is no skirting around the dreaded issue in “We’re all going to die”. When Leah Kaminsky decided to write it she hoped to “arrive at some sort of comfort zone, free from fear” - the profound fear of death she’s harboured ever since she can remember. Writing with authority as a family doctor, Kaminsky discusses the way we approach living, dying and death in twelve chapters with varied topics such as tunnel vision, child mortality, daredevils flirting with death, suicide, health anxiety, end-of-life-care, assisted dying and living with loss. Her caring nature and compassion for her patients shine through the stories she tells about them and her interviews with rather interesting experts provide great insight and memorable quotes.
Having lived through the death of elderly parents and still picking at the scabby scars long after a loved one’s suicide, I was moved by Kaminksy sharing her profoundly personal experiences in an open and honest but also deeply compassionate way. As with her novel, The Waiting Room, her writing is engaging, full of energy, warmth and humour.
I liked “We’re all going to die”. It is thought-provoking: none of us is prepared for how we’ll deal with death or grief. And it is inspiring: Laura, the schoolteacher diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of thirty-seven, just wants to hug and hold onto the “everydayness of life”. To savour the simple joys before she dies.
I’ll be returning to the many bookmarks I’ve made. I found great comfort in Chapter 10, Living on the Fringe: Finding Joy in Honouring the Dead. Being slightly obsessed with keeping memories alive with photographs I am grateful to Leah Kaminsky for introducing me to Dr Stanley Burns and his wonderful online Burns Archive. Macabre to some perhaps, but fascinating to me.
One of the most memorable quotes for me is the one by physician Atul Gawande: “For human beings life is meaningful because it is a story … and in stories, endings matter.” Kaminsky ends this book again asking the question she started out with: But if I am terrified of death myself, how can I accompany my patients along their journey without being disingenuous? The answer is profoundly simple.
My only criticism is that it could have been edited down a bit further. It is a bit repetitive in sections.
You are aware of this, too, even if your impending death is not on your mind every waking moment. Your ultimate deadline is growing nearer with each passing second, as your eyes pass across these words, having chosen to invest a few precious minutes in reading a newspaper review of a book about the last thing each of us will ever do.
As a family doctor, Leah Kaminsky has heard many of her patients’ bucket lists. For her, writing this wonderful and thoughtful book was a step towards staring down her own death anxiety. “I hoped that by putting pen to paper I would arrive at some sort of comfort zone, free from fear, having peeled off a protective skin layered with the debris of the past, of the ghosts I carry, of the many patients I have cared for, laughed with and fought for over the years,” she writes.
With 'We’re All Going to Die', Kaminsky establishes herself alongside Karen Hitchcock, another popular Australian doctor-writer who has managed to bridge the gap between the medical profession and laypeople by putting into words her experiences of caring for the rest of us. It is important work, for we rely on people such as Kaminsky and Hitchcock when things go wrong with our bodies and our minds, and it is to our benefit that both women are skilled and empathetic writers, too.
This book is split into a dozen chapters that focus on different aspects of our relationship with dying, such as child mortality, health anxiety, near-death experiences, living with loss, and exploring the idea of a ‘‘good death’’. Throughout these demarcations, Kaminsky liberally sprinkles in some of her own story and professional journey, beginning with this opening sentence: “Ever since I can remember I have harboured a profound fear of death.”
Her first brush with it was when an uncle died just after Kaminsky had turned 13. She wonders whether this spurred her toward a career in medicine. The ghost of her mother sits permanently in the corner of her office, “chain-smoking and telling me I should have been a lawyer”. Halfway through the book, the author reveals that her depression-prone mother overdosed on medication, choosing to end her life after her children had become young adults and left the nest.
The scars of this act have run deep through Kaminsky’s life. “It has taken me thirty years to let these words spill out on to the blank page, calling her suicide a choice, reframing her farewell as an act of defiance, a final rude finger held up to Death.” Though the topics of euthanasia and assisted dying are at last moving from the fringes of taboo towards the centre of the national conversation, words such as these are still challenging and confronting to read.
This chapter on living with loss is one of the book’s longest and most affecting, paired as it is with the notion of ‘‘transition objects’’ such as her daughter’s plush toy rabbit, Bun. Kaminsky’s daughter is now a young woman, but “Sometimes when she’s out, I tiptoe into her room and hold Bun close to my heart, breathing in his faded smell as I greedily try to recapture the past.”
The author, who published her debut novel, The Waiting Room, last year, has a deft touch with her pen, striking a dual pose of authority and warmth. The prose here crackles with energy, insight and imagery: “Each hour I lie awake, flipping from side to side like a fish dragged out of the safety of its watery home, I am an hour closer to my death.” Or: “Death has become a sterilised commodity, with most of us dying in intensive care units, the beep of the ECG machine playing us its farewell hymn.” Or: “I might have died in childbirth, a bloated whale washed up on the bloody shores of a prolonged and difficult labour.”
The challenge with a book such as 'We’re All Going to Die' is how to draw together all of these loose, interrelated threads into a neat conclusion — or at least as neat a conclusion as can be fashioned from such a messy, emotional and difficult subject. Having put pen to paper in an attempt to stare down her death anxiety, Kaminsky’s decision on where to remove the pen from the page is a suitably poignant one. I’d say more about this final scene, but then, what good is life without surprises?
Review originally published in The Weekend Australian Review, June 18 2016: [...]