Dying Well by Ira Byock M.D.

Dying Well

Rating: ★★★★

Genre: Nonfiction, Medical nonfiction

Medium: Paperback

Synopsis: Dr. Ira Byock has been a hospice doctor in Montana for many years, and has aided the state in founding one of the first in-hospital hospice programs.  His goal is that no person should suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually (if applicable) while dying.  These are the stories he has compiled in order to highlight how he thinks hospice care should be, and how to orchestrate the serious conversations between you and your loved one.

Review: I picked this book up at the library by happenstance, and I’m so glad I did.  To tell you all a little about my personal life, I had two family members on hospice care, and now I only have one.  This is the first time in my life I’ve had a major death in my family, and in all honesty I think I would have been a little lost without this book.

Byock explains how different people die.  While the overt disease is the “leading” cause of death, death usually comes from malnutrition, choking, or lack of oxygen.  And none of these are painful if we focus on the loved one’s comfort.  After all, it is called comfort care.  He explains things like “how much morphine is too much morphine?”  Answer: whatever amount stops the pain.  It’s knowing things like these that put me at ease–well, more at ease–with mortality.

He also explains how to have conversations with our dying loved ones, whether they’re angry, sad, or accepting of their declining condition.  What would you regret not saying?  Can you forgive the dying loved one, or somebody else in your family?  Are you okay with letting go?  Have you said your good-byes?  All of these are important questions for you to consider, he argues.  And I think he’s right.

Each story he details is uplifting, and ends on a positive note.  The question he wants us all to consider is: “Can any good come out of this bad situation?”  If so, try to make it happen.  Another thing that I found was very important was that in terms of hospice, hospice nurses, and palliative care doctors: “Do not settle for less.”  This is so so so true.

Byock recognizes that every person and every death is different.  However, the title of his book stems from the dislike of the term “a good death.”  Because, what is a good death?  It’s impossible to say.  But the term “dying well” indicates no suffering, comfort, and complying with the dying person’s wishes.

Ultimately, this book was incredibly healing for me as a person going through these types of experiences.  It helped assuage my fears and discomforts, and provided me more information than a Google search could have provided me with.  I don’t know how often I can say this for other books, but this book truly came into my life at just the right time.


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