Life, without death, has very little meaning but as we all know the actual process of dying is rarely experienced without it bringing trauma and deep emotional pain.
Few of us understand the nature of such things until we are faced with the difficult task of caring and supporting someone who is terminally ill. It is at these times that challenging questions emerge regarding the best way to cope with somebody who is dying and being cared for in a hospice.
The Divine Art of Dying is a book that seeks to address these complex issues head-on. Written by somebody who is dying, the book is a graphic portrayal of the experiences of one woman in the grip of an ultimate destiny over which she has no control but who, in her final months, struggles to regain some personal power.
The book opens with Karens’, the authors’, decision not to continue with the chemotherapy required to treat the Ovarian cancer that has haunted her for over ten years. It reveals the challenges and ramifications that resulted from making that heart-wrenching decision and is centered around extracts from Karens hospice journal. It reveals her own, personal reflections on her own intensive care and the way that she felt about the process of dying in such circumstances.
Sadly, the author did not live long enough to see her book about dying completed and so the task of bringing it to publication was handed over to her friend Herbert Anderson
Her commentaries include decisions and discussions on the type of palliative care that she was to receive as well as occasional reflections on serious disease diagnosis and the immense challenges that society faces when discussing death.
At the end of each chapter the author offers advice on the best way to administer, share and uphold the dignity of the dying as well as how to support the decision-making process of those in the final stages of their life. Some of these include ideas on telling stories as a way of celebrating a life lived, of engaging with a process of letting go of life rather than clinging on as well as insights in the use of tokens of appreciation such as small gifts which can equally empower and disempower a terminally ill-patient if not given correctly.
Later on the book looks at the final stages of Karens’ life and the impending onset of death before covering the process of grieving by those friends and family who are left behind.
Finally, the book closes with notes from the co-author and a comment by Karen’s close friend—the one who published her work.
Our Review of ‘The Divine Art of Dying’
It takes an immensely strong person to cope with their own impending demise and to record their thoughts and experiences of the process as they meet their final days.
Karen Speestra is/was one of those people.
The Divine Art of Dying is a personal testament to a life that held a unique quality and validity even during the point in time where others would simply have given up on life itself. The result is a book that offers an invaluable insight into the right, and wrong, way to approach death—both as a victim of the dark clutches of the Lord of Time and as someone who is charged with the care and support of somebody who is dying.
The journal entries are often heart-rending but the practical advice offered her for those who are caught up in the deep cloud of confusion surrounding the last few weeks and months of a persons life are uplifting and empowering.
The Divine Art of Dying is, however, a tough book to read as it engages with so many issues and questions surrounding death which generally remain taboo in our society. It is for this reason that most people will simply shy away from engaging with its core wisdom and spiritual insights.
This is a pity as this is one of those few publications that offers a great deal of information into the significance of death and as a direct consequence strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a compassionate human-being.
The Divine Art of Dying is a book that offers a unique insight into a process that we will all, inevitably, have to experience at some point in our lives. Its underlying message of love and compassion which shines brightly through a dark and depressing set of personal circumstances, leaves its reader with a valuable set of insights into how we can, even through times of trial, grasp at a deeper level to living life by engaging with death close up.
‘This is a book that must, at sometime, find its way onto your library shelves so you might as well go out and buy it now!’