A Kinder, Gentler Death

Seven out of ten Americans say they want to die at home, yet 75 percent die in medical institutions. Nearly half of Americans die in pain, surrounded and treated by strangers.

These are statistics that might make us want to push the thought of death further back in our minds. “Medical Care of the Soul” places death in front of our eyes, ringing in our ears, and on the tips of our tongue.

By acting as a guidebook to dying well, this collection of thoughts, observations, recommendations and suggestions allows the reader to think about death, their own death, or a loved one’s death. It encourages us to realize that there is a way to explore the emotions and situations that will arise. The book is a recognition of the soul and how doctors, families and patients should consider the soul when making end of life decisions. From worksheets that include “Five wishes for (your name here)” to a sample of Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, Bruce Bartlow, M.D., introduces us to the unfamiliar, the unknown, and the unavoidable.

For 30 years, Dr. Bartlow tried to “save” patients. Until he realized that by prolonging patients lives, he might be doing just the opposite. He says, “Our patients are often destroyed by the technological brilliance we heap upon them.” In these modern times death is considered to be a loss and failure. As a solution, Dr. Bartlow asks us all to listen to ourselves and think about the possibilities of healing and being healed. We read through different scenarios and how critical care physicians might address these situations with the patient, our families, and us. We learn how to first recognize, then express our desires. Dr. Bartlow points out that years ago death was accepted, ever present and honored. Now technology “the slayer of the soul” has entered the picture. “Between 1947 and 1952 science snatched death from the grasp of fate and faith,” he writes.

Dr. Bartlow hopes “that haunted aching will be resolved when we realize that we will be healed not by defeating death but by honoring life so deeply that each moment draws us closer to its mysteries.” He asks us to see the death not as a loss but as the “last, loudest call to discover what we came here to do.” Death has always been a mystery but Dr. Bartlow shares his vast and insightful inspiration in helping us to achieve a good death. “Medical Care for the Soul” is like night swimming; slipping into a calm body of water, surrounded by dark, warm uncertainty. I have never felt more at ease with the subject.

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