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Dear Life: A Doctor's Story of Love and Loss

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As a specialist in palliative medicine, Dr Rachel Clarke chooses to inhabit a place many people would find too tragic to contemplate. Every day she tries to bring care and comfort to those reaching the end of their lives and to help make dying more bearable. Rachel's training was put to the test in 2017 when her beloved GP father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She lea As a specialist in palliative medicine, Dr Rachel Clarke chooses to inhabit a place many people would find too tragic to contemplate. Every day she tries to bring care and comfort to those reaching the end of their lives and to help make dying more bearable. Rachel's training was put to the test in 2017 when her beloved GP father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She learned that nothing - even the best palliative care - can sugar-coat the pain of losing someone you love. And yet, she argues, in a hospice there is more of what matters in life - more love, more strength, more kindness, more joy, more tenderness, more grace, more compassion - than you could ever imagine. For if there is a difference between people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it is simply this: that the terminally ill know their time is running out, while we live as though we have all the time in the world. Dear Life is a book about the vital importance of human connection, by the doctor we would all want by our sides at a time of crisis. It is a love letter - to a father, to a profession, to life itself.


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As a specialist in palliative medicine, Dr Rachel Clarke chooses to inhabit a place many people would find too tragic to contemplate. Every day she tries to bring care and comfort to those reaching the end of their lives and to help make dying more bearable. Rachel's training was put to the test in 2017 when her beloved GP father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She lea As a specialist in palliative medicine, Dr Rachel Clarke chooses to inhabit a place many people would find too tragic to contemplate. Every day she tries to bring care and comfort to those reaching the end of their lives and to help make dying more bearable. Rachel's training was put to the test in 2017 when her beloved GP father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She learned that nothing - even the best palliative care - can sugar-coat the pain of losing someone you love. And yet, she argues, in a hospice there is more of what matters in life - more love, more strength, more kindness, more joy, more tenderness, more grace, more compassion - than you could ever imagine. For if there is a difference between people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it is simply this: that the terminally ill know their time is running out, while we live as though we have all the time in the world. Dear Life is a book about the vital importance of human connection, by the doctor we would all want by our sides at a time of crisis. It is a love letter - to a father, to a profession, to life itself.

30 review for Dear Life: A Doctor's Story of Love and Loss

  1. 4 out of 5

    Canadian Reader

    Clarke’s is an honest, moving, and sometimes wrenching memoir. It covers her childhood with her physician father, her close calls with death in girlhood and youth, the decision to enter medicine in her late twenties after a successful but unfulfilling career as a journalist/documentary filmmaker, and some highlights from medical school and her time as a junior doctor. The bulk of the book, however, focuses on her work in a hospice as a palliative care physician and her experience of her beloved Clarke’s is an honest, moving, and sometimes wrenching memoir. It covers her childhood with her physician father, her close calls with death in girlhood and youth, the decision to enter medicine in her late twenties after a successful but unfulfilling career as a journalist/documentary filmmaker, and some highlights from medical school and her time as a junior doctor. The bulk of the book, however, focuses on her work in a hospice as a palliative care physician and her experience of her beloved father’s final illness and death from colon cancer. It is one thing for a doctor, in an almost shamanic role, to tend to the dying and witness the grief of those they leave behind, and quite another to be a family member losing your beloved. Nothing prepares you for it. This is not the book to read if you’re feeling the least bit anxious. As a reader, you’re reminded of the multiple ways in which you and your loved ones can die, and I’m afraid that I was not in the mood to be contemplating any of them. Some years ago now, I recall hearing Sherwin Nuland interviewed about his famous book How We Die. The great surgeon-writer bluntly remarked that there really were no good deaths: the end is never easy. His statement really resonated for me at the time, as I’d seen how poorly pain had been managed in a family member’s last weeks and days. Clarke’s book provides some reassurance that things have changed for the better in palliative care. This is a fine and worthwhile book, full of well-told stories about the author’s life, practice, and father. Having said that, I think one needs a certain amount of fortitude to read it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I’ve read so many doctors’ memoirs and other books about death and dying that it takes a truly special one to stand out. Whether you’ve done a lot of looking into illness and death or have never dared to pick up a book about such topics, I would urge you to read Dear Life. Clarke specializes in palliative medicine – “Rarely, if ever, does a week go by in which all of my patients survive.” It takes honesty, realism and tact to get patients and families to understand when death is imminent, but sh I’ve read so many doctors’ memoirs and other books about death and dying that it takes a truly special one to stand out. Whether you’ve done a lot of looking into illness and death or have never dared to pick up a book about such topics, I would urge you to read Dear Life. Clarke specializes in palliative medicine – “Rarely, if ever, does a week go by in which all of my patients survive.” It takes honesty, realism and tact to get patients and families to understand when death is imminent, but she also relies on the kind of dogged optimism that gets an elderly woman to one last bridge game and pulls off a hospice wedding for a patient dying of breast cancer. The author alternates her patients’ stories with her own in a completely natural way. She documents her early interest in medicine and her handful of brushes with death in a manner reminiscent of Maggie O’Farrell in I Am, I Am, I Am. Death only came up once in her five years of medical school – on the first day, when students were shown the film Wit, based on a play about a woman with terminal ovarian cancer. Clarke decries that dearth of discussion about mortality by the medical community and in society at large. (“Death is taboo for many reasons, not least the fear that it might just be catching.”) She also reflects on the contradictory demands placed on doctors: they should be compassionate, but also detached; they should be cautious, but also willing to take risks. “We want them human, empathetic, caring – but only up to a point.” A major theme is her relationship with her father, who was also a doctor, and how she absorbed his lessons of empathy and dedication. She wrote this book in the wake of his recent death from advanced bowel cancer – an experience that forced her to practice what she had always preached as a hospice doctor: focusing on quality of life rather than number of days, ceasing “desperation oncology” treatment before it degrades dignity, ensuring adequate pain relief, and spending the final days making memories. A late chapter entitled “Wonder,” part of which originally appeared in the New York Times in 2018, is a highlight. She is even able to find humor in these wrenching days, as when her father hallucinated a tiny Tony Blair on the faucet. Like With the End in Mind, this is a passionate but also a practical book, encouraging readers to be sure that they and especially their older relatives have formalized their wishes for end-of-life care and what will happen after their death (e.g. burial or cremation choices and a will to distribute their belongings). Hospice care is so important, but in the UK it’s only one-third funded by the NHS, with the charitable sector stepping in to make up for the shortfall. This is a wonderful book to pair with Being Mortal by Atul Gawande and get people talking about end-of-life issues. Favorite passages: “And there was the palliative care team, swooping in after dawn, armed not just with expertise but also the conviction that even – perhaps especially – in the last throes of life, superlative care is crucial. This was medicine at its very best, placing patient, not disease, centre stage.” “If there is a difference between people who know they are dying and the rest of us, it is simply this: that the terminally ill know their time is running out, while we live as though we have all the time in the world. Their urgency propels them to do the things they want to do, reach out to those they love, and savour the moments of life still left to them. In a hospice, therefore, there is more of what matters – more love, more strength, more kindness, more smiles, more dignity, more joy, more tenderness, more grace, more compassion – than you could ever imagine. I work in a world that thrums with life. My patients teach me all I need to know about living.”

  3. 4 out of 5

    Georgi_Lvs_Books

    ‘Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.’ I am emotionally drained from reading this book however, it has forever changed my life for the better. I can completely relate to this book. Before losing my dad to cancer in 2017 I was afraid of death, didn’t want to speak about it, think about it or know anything about it. Which left me scared and left me with many unanswered questions when my dad passed. Ever since then I have been trying to learn more about death. To not be so afraid of i ‘Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.’ I am emotionally drained from reading this book however, it has forever changed my life for the better. I can completely relate to this book. Before losing my dad to cancer in 2017 I was afraid of death, didn’t want to speak about it, think about it or know anything about it. Which left me scared and left me with many unanswered questions when my dad passed. Ever since then I have been trying to learn more about death. To not be so afraid of it, understand it better. This book has helped with that. Thank you Rachel for this exceptional book and your help. So many story’s broke me. So many times I was trying to hold my tears in. The story with Rachel (Author) and her dad was VERY difficult for me to read. It brought back so many memories of myself with my dad. MORE needs to be done for palliative care! It MUST be given a priority for us all. Dying is scary for many. We should be able die without fear, we should have choices, a voice, to have our rights met to the very end. If it wasn’t for palliative care my dad wouldn’t have been able to die peacefully towards the end. My family and I would not have been able to surround his bed and watch him take his last breath. This was all thanks to palliative care and a lovely hospice that is very dear to me. I am so honoured I got to read this story before it’s release in January 2020. ‘Dying, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, is never known first hand until the moment of extinction.‘

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chitra Ahanthem

    This is a book that will touch you in the deepest way possible. Rachel Clarke, a former journalist takes to studying medicine and through her interactions with the people she comes into contact, make us pause and think of what is it that a person wants most when he/she is sick and ailing. ‘Dear Life’ not only gives us a peek into the time when the author is the doctor but also gives personal insights of her experience of being a doctor, care giver and daughter in the section drawing from her mos This is a book that will touch you in the deepest way possible. Rachel Clarke, a former journalist takes to studying medicine and through her interactions with the people she comes into contact, make us pause and think of what is it that a person wants most when he/she is sick and ailing. ‘Dear Life’ not only gives us a peek into the time when the author is the doctor but also gives personal insights of her experience of being a doctor, care giver and daughter in the section drawing from her most intimate experience of caring for her father, a doctor who is diagnosed with cancer.    She makes a compelling point about the meaning of life and its purpose when faced with the inevitable that in the end, it looks like nothing: to be alive in the moment, to draw a smile, to feel the moment. The anecdotes and insights on palliative care and how medical personnel can make a difference in the last moments of people and their loved ones will make you teary eyed for sure but also is deeply informative for mostly, we end up subjecting those we love to what we think is the best. Many sections left me weeping but never despondent and therein lies the beauty of this book: that it takes you to the most intimate and scary notions about illness, dying and grieving but that it also gives profound insights and hope. Thank you @littlebrown for the uncorrected proof copy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

    “For the dying are living, like everyone else” Dear Life is part memoir, part meditation on medicine, death and dying. Much of the first half focuses on Rachel Clarke’s personal life. After a short career in journalism, Clarke surrendered to the inevitable and commenced a degree in medicine, following in her revered father’s footsteps. While completing her training in the NHS, Clarke unexpectedly found herself drawn to the area of palliative medicine. As a palliative care doctor, Clarke believes t “For the dying are living, like everyone else” Dear Life is part memoir, part meditation on medicine, death and dying. Much of the first half focuses on Rachel Clarke’s personal life. After a short career in journalism, Clarke surrendered to the inevitable and commenced a degree in medicine, following in her revered father’s footsteps. While completing her training in the NHS, Clarke unexpectedly found herself drawn to the area of palliative medicine. As a palliative care doctor, Clarke believes the specialty demonstrates medicine at its very best, ‘placing patient, not disease, centre stage’. Like most I fear death, in part because I am terrified of an end of indignity, of pain, and suffering. Touching also on the ethical questions surrounding the common ‘life-at-all-cost’ practice of medicine, and the importance of Advanced Health Directives, Clarke explains how palliative care aims to address and alleviate those fears as much as possible. Clarke’s portrayal of her patients and their struggle to live, even while dying, is insightful and compassionate. With empathy and honesty the author shares the last days of some of her patients, who approach their end with a mixture of anger, understanding, fear, resignation, and often, perhaps surprisingly in the end, acceptance. This becomes all the more important to Rachel when her beloved father, a G.P, is diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer, and when treatment proves unsuccessful, she does all she can to ease his demise. Dear Life is a thoughtful, inspiring, and surprisingly comforting exploration of a subject most us find difficult to discuss, or even contemplate. The hard truth is, Death will one day come for us, and when it does, we will want palliative and hospice services that will facilitate, and advocate for, the inevitable end on our own terms.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dan Myatt

    In 2019 I found myself in hospital, Dr's were unable to source the cause of my infection and illness and I was subject to many examinations and tests (MRI, CT, X Ray all happened more than once) it was discovered I had an abcess within my back and in surgery to remove it my body reacted by sending a massive toxic wave of poison through me causing Sepsis. I spent weeks in hospital recovering and months at home recovering and the 100 plus members of staff that looked after me did so as a human, no In 2019 I found myself in hospital, Dr's were unable to source the cause of my infection and illness and I was subject to many examinations and tests (MRI, CT, X Ray all happened more than once) it was discovered I had an abcess within my back and in surgery to remove it my body reacted by sending a massive toxic wave of poison through me causing Sepsis. I spent weeks in hospital recovering and months at home recovering and the 100 plus members of staff that looked after me did so as a human, not as my NHS Number. This book is incredible, it reminds us all that no matter what we think in life we are dealing with people, people who may be alone or may be surrounded by friends and family but they are still people and deserve to be treated as much. I cried, openly at parts, I winched at parts, I felt frustration and upset at parts. The author took me through Journeys that were uncomfortable yet essential. Wonderfully written, beautifully paced and an incredible book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Judith Johnson

    This is Rachel Clarke's second book, as well-written as her first one, Your Life in My Hands. Clear, informative and deeply moving, written from her perspective as a palliative care doctor working in a hospice, and including her own grief at the death of her father from cancer. I would highly recommend this important book, and also the following, which deal with related issues: What Can I Do to Help? by Deborah Hutton In the Midst of Life by Jennifer Worth Love, Medicine and Miracles by Bernie S. S This is Rachel Clarke's second book, as well-written as her first one, Your Life in My Hands. Clear, informative and deeply moving, written from her perspective as a palliative care doctor working in a hospice, and including her own grief at the death of her father from cancer. I would highly recommend this important book, and also the following, which deal with related issues: What Can I Do to Help? by Deborah Hutton In the Midst of Life by Jennifer Worth Love, Medicine and Miracles by Bernie S. Siegel

  8. 4 out of 5

    Iain Snelling

    I feel a bit churlish about giving a negative review. There is compassion in the book, from a palliative care doctor, including a hastily arranged wedding in a hospice. The stories told of compassion at the end of life were touching but didn’t get much beyond what you might see in a tabloid newspaper. As well as a sprinkling of these stories there are fragments of autobiography, and most significantly for the author an emotional account of her father’s death from cancer. The book seemed to be try I feel a bit churlish about giving a negative review. There is compassion in the book, from a palliative care doctor, including a hastily arranged wedding in a hospice. The stories told of compassion at the end of life were touching but didn’t get much beyond what you might see in a tabloid newspaper. As well as a sprinkling of these stories there are fragments of autobiography, and most significantly for the author an emotional account of her father’s death from cancer. The book seemed to be trying to do a number of things, and in each one it wasn’t successful. Autobiographies and memoirs are generally written when there is more of a story to tell. Dr Clarke is relatively early in her career, and the stories of the patients that she tells don’t add up to an exploration of the role of palliative care, or hospices, in healthcare, or in medicine. That might be an interesting addition to the growing popular literature based on medical careers. What is the specifically medical contribution to end of life care, and how might it be developed, through for example better collaboration with other medical specialties. You won’t get anything like that from the book. The description of her father’s illness and death was moving but I felt like an intruder. Like many thousand such experiences every week, it was intensely personal, and I wasn’t sure what purpose it’s public telling served. Two features of the book were particularly irritating. The first is the many references to ‘my patient’ or even ‘my hospice’. This ‘possession’ of patients by doctors is something that she argues against and so the frequent use of this phrase is puzzling, but it does convey a lack of humility which is inconsistent with the theme of compassion. Just clumsy but I found it irritating none the less. Secondly, the prose is often far too purple. Dr Clarke was a television journalist before turning to medicine, and the book often seems to owe more that part of her professional career. On Dr Clarke’s website it says another book is coming out in the new year, her third. It does begin to look like the appeal of ‘celebrity doctor’ is as attractive as the compassionate servant of the dying that this book portrays, and in that it is convincing.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Skyesmum

    What a truly heartwarming book. Yes it was upsetting, but not in an awful way, but a truly inspiring way. I found it uplifting and I can imagine that anyone who has recently lost someone, or someone whose life is ebbing away, as happens to all of us, that this wonderfully, poignant book would be. What a wonderful book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Thuzar

    As a nurse who is lucky enough to have a chance to explore both Emergency Medicine and Palliative Medicine, I was astounded by Rachel's poetic ways of describing the diagnoses, the medical treatments and behaviours of patients, while expressing every word with love and passion. The Palliative Care Teams are underrated teams in hospitals. While I was working in the palliative ward, I had witnessed that a Palliative consultant came straight from home at 3 AM on Sunday morning to be with the family As a nurse who is lucky enough to have a chance to explore both Emergency Medicine and Palliative Medicine, I was astounded by Rachel's poetic ways of describing the diagnoses, the medical treatments and behaviours of patients, while expressing every word with love and passion. The Palliative Care Teams are underrated teams in hospitals. While I was working in the palliative ward, I had witnessed that a Palliative consultant came straight from home at 3 AM on Sunday morning to be with the family members during the final hours of his patient or how the whole palliative team (doctors, nurses, PT, OT, ST and dietician) spent a few minutes to choose one type of ice-cream for a cancer patient with food restrictions. There might not be over-the-top medical interventions with the palliative care team. But they are able to touch more hearts and souls of patients and families. Also, Rachel beautifully portrayed the final days with her father who was diagnosed with cancer. She was able to combine her childhood memories with her father and the description of a magnolia tree together with the current stage of her father (weak but determined to keep on living) from a simple walk to the park. "The magnolia of my childhood," she described. Anyway, this is a wonderful book that reminds us about the existence of love, loss and passion from some simple acts in this materialistic world. But you will need a box of tissues to wipe your tears. I warn you!!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Iona Sharma

    Absolutely the worst time in my life to read this, but I picked it up and kept reading it because it is a wonderful book, clear-eyed on the realities of death and palliative care, but tender and hopeful with it. In part it's a manifesto for better end-of-life care, in part a memoir of the author's relationship with her father, and in a third part, a paean in praise of whatever life remains. I will probably read it more than once. Absolutely the worst time in my life to read this, but I picked it up and kept reading it because it is a wonderful book, clear-eyed on the realities of death and palliative care, but tender and hopeful with it. In part it's a manifesto for better end-of-life care, in part a memoir of the author's relationship with her father, and in a third part, a paean in praise of whatever life remains. I will probably read it more than once.

  12. 5 out of 5

    HattieB

    A brilliant thought provoking book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    ***Thank you NetGalley for the uncorrected proof copy*** “For the dying are living, like everyone else.” This memoir stirred many past emotions & memories for me as my mum developed cancer and spent her last few months in a local hospice. Thank you Rachel for giving me a better understanding of what my mum went through and how hospices work 'behind-the-scenes'. Each of your patients is lucky to have you caring and fighting for them. 'Dear Life' offers both sides of the story - a doctor working in ***Thank you NetGalley for the uncorrected proof copy*** “For the dying are living, like everyone else.” This memoir stirred many past emotions & memories for me as my mum developed cancer and spent her last few months in a local hospice. Thank you Rachel for giving me a better understanding of what my mum went through and how hospices work 'behind-the-scenes'. Each of your patients is lucky to have you caring and fighting for them. 'Dear Life' offers both sides of the story - a doctor working in palliative care and a daughter dealing with her own father's terminal cancer diagnosis. This book is particularly thought-provoking as death and the discussion of it is such a taboo subject in society yet so important for end of life care.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Linda Hill

    A doctor’s personal view of life and death. What a book. I had reservations about reading Dear Life by Rachel Clarke as I thought I might find its subject matter too personal and difficult or the author too introspective, patronising or condescending. I’m not a great lover of memoir writing either. So when I consider the negative approach I had to beginning this read I’m slightly embarrassed by just how far from the truth I was. Dear Life is a wonderful, wonderful book that any person facing deat A doctor’s personal view of life and death. What a book. I had reservations about reading Dear Life by Rachel Clarke as I thought I might find its subject matter too personal and difficult or the author too introspective, patronising or condescending. I’m not a great lover of memoir writing either. So when I consider the negative approach I had to beginning this read I’m slightly embarrassed by just how far from the truth I was. Dear Life is a wonderful, wonderful book that any person facing death (and yes I do mean ALL of us) should read. It is magnificent and has been an absolute privilege to read. In a world frequently filled with negativity, Dear Life is an oasis of hope and joy. Rachel Clarke has restored my faith in myself and in humanity, for which I cannot thank her enough. She demystifies death and presents in a beautifully written way, the manner in which we can live life to the full even as our own mortality and that of those we love is a stark, and often close, reality. Her style is honest, straightforward, poetic and completely captivating. I simply could not stop reading even when my vision was blurred by the tears her words brought me to. With sensitivity, knowledge and skill in Dear Life Rachel Clarke has made me glad for all the moments of my life; not just those positive, happy memories, but also the times when I have suffered physical and emotional pain, been stressed or unhappy, because she exemplifies how every single experience is part of a life lived and that, even as we die, we can still do so with dignity and love. Whilst Rachel Clarke explores her own life and the death of her father, Dear Life isn’t simply a memoir. It references history, geography and literature. There are wolrd events and real people scattered through its pages. I loved the quotations that head up each chapter, and found comfort in them as much as the delight in the mentions of my favourite poet John Donne. There’s a practical Postscript of links and advice where readers can research more about how to prepare for their own future, including their own death. As a result, Dear Life transcends the sum of its parts to be something much much greater and more important. Having mentioned death so many times when reviewing a book called Dear Life, let me say there is nothing mawkish or sensationalised here, but rather a compassionate love song to humanity, to love and friendship and to living our best lives whatever our circumstances. I think Rachel Clarke is a genius because Dear Life is a superlative book. It moved me, it helped me and it made me glad to be alive. I cannot recommend Dear Life highly enough. It is both life affirming and life changing. Just buy it. Dear Life may be the most important book you ever read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Wow. What an incredibly profound and moving read; I don't even know where to start with my review of Dear Life because I just know that whatever I say will not do it justice. This was definitely an emotional read; at many times throughout this book the tears were streaming down my face (which was a bit awkward when I had a work meeting in the next half hour) because it is such an emotive and insightful read. Rachel works in hospice; and I think we can all say that our understanding of hospices Wow. What an incredibly profound and moving read; I don't even know where to start with my review of Dear Life because I just know that whatever I say will not do it justice. This was definitely an emotional read; at many times throughout this book the tears were streaming down my face (which was a bit awkward when I had a work meeting in the next half hour) because it is such an emotive and insightful read. Rachel works in hospice; and I think we can all say that our understanding of hospices are so wrong. I honestly thought, as many of Rachel's patients do, that they are the places people go to die. That when you go in you won't come out alive again. So it was really interesting to read about what hospices actually do, and what they could achieve given the proper funding. Rachel is a Doctor who clearly has a lot of compassion and empathy for all the people she works with; she wants them to be more than just numbers or figures but actually names and faces and the stories of their lives. This really comes across on the pages and it makes you warm to Rachel and empathise even more with all the people she has cared for over the years. I think this is such an important book because it focuses on not being scared of dying, but being scared of living at the end of your days. So many of Rachel's patients know that they are dying but they don't just give up, they are determined to carry on living for as long as they can and it is just incredibly inspiring; from the young bride who is determined to have her big wedding to the grandfather who wants to reach his grandson's birthday. Rachel intersperses the book with patient stories, details about her own journey to become a Doctor, and about her GP father, who sadly was diagnosed with cancer and put Rachel into the shoes of the families she saw everyday. It was definitely a hard read at times but I was just hooked by the stories and the writing and i'm so glad I randomly decided to pick this one up. It's definitely a book that will stay with me for a long time and the stories of the patients and Rachel's father, who in the face of death, just fought for one more moment with the ones they love and the things they loved doing.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Rachel Clarke is a palliative care doctor and the daughter of a doctor. She didn't start her working life as a doctor - she started off as a television reporter. In this book she describes her early career in medicine and how she came to choose palliative care as her specialty. She then describes several (carefully disguised) cases to illustrate much of what a palliative care doctor does and why she finds it so rewarding. She also describes her father's diagnosis with advanced colon cancer, the Rachel Clarke is a palliative care doctor and the daughter of a doctor. She didn't start her working life as a doctor - she started off as a television reporter. In this book she describes her early career in medicine and how she came to choose palliative care as her specialty. She then describes several (carefully disguised) cases to illustrate much of what a palliative care doctor does and why she finds it so rewarding. She also describes her father's diagnosis with advanced colon cancer, the course of his illness and his eventual death. (I needed lots of kleenex while reading this book.) In many ways this is actually a reassuring book - she describes the final stages of most terminal illnesses, which don't differ very much, and what palliative care doctors can do to make these final days as free of pain and distress as possible, which is quite a bit. She does recommend discussing with your nearest and dearest what you would want to happen to you if you are faced with situations such as cardiac arrest or severe brain injuries. Would you want medical staff to subject you to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), a brutal procedure which rarely works and might well buy you very little additional time even in the small percentage of cases where it works? Would you want to be kept alive in a permanent vegetative state? Would you wish to be an organ donor? It will help you and your family if you have discussed these (and preferably documented them) long before you or your family members are facing any such thing. You will not be able to speak for yourself if you are that ill, so it's worth making sure that your family or friends do know. You can detail your wishes in an advance directive, but she is realistic in recognising that many people will not get around to filling in one of these!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Liddle

    A book that meant so much. Moved me and will stay with me forever. Firstly I think it’s incredibly brave for this Doctor to write so frankly about her experiences not just as a Doctor and a medical professional but as a Daughter, Wife and Mother. Death is a strange, often haunting and scary topic rarely discussed and whilst this book has had me in tears I’ve also felt strangely humbled and at peace. I have often believed people who work with the terminally ill are particularly kind souls who I a A book that meant so much. Moved me and will stay with me forever. Firstly I think it’s incredibly brave for this Doctor to write so frankly about her experiences not just as a Doctor and a medical professional but as a Daughter, Wife and Mother. Death is a strange, often haunting and scary topic rarely discussed and whilst this book has had me in tears I’ve also felt strangely humbled and at peace. I have often believed people who work with the terminally ill are particularly kind souls who I am In Awe of. The care I witnessed my own grandparents get at hospices was truly magical. That in the darkest and saddest of times there are smiles, laughter, peace, beautiful gardens, care beyond what you could ever imagine and where the smallest acts make the very biggest of difference. As Rachel says death can present us with awkward and cramped final acts of absolution but yet can transform by love into something beautiful. She also reminds us that “there is nothing more important than another human presence, old fashioned, instinctive, love and tenderness towards one of our own”. How wonderfully beautifully true that is. In death most of us are scared but Rachel reminds us that there is also “strength, kindness, smiles, dignity, joy, tenderness, grace and compassion”. This book has moved me beyond words, resonated with me so much and reaffirmed my absolute admiration for all those who do these jobs. That make such a difference to both the dying and the ones still living afterwards. I have so much admiration not only for her dedication but her frank honesty. A truly amazing read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    There has been a flurry of medical memoirs recently, a genre I am always drawn too. This one by Rachel Clarke, a Palliative Care Consultant is one of the better ones. She weaves in stories about her practice, her medical training and her own personal stories in a way that carry the stories forward, and brought me to tears by the end. We have lots of shows and books that talk about birth and pregnancy, but there is little to help us prepare for the death of family and friends, and our own demise. There has been a flurry of medical memoirs recently, a genre I am always drawn too. This one by Rachel Clarke, a Palliative Care Consultant is one of the better ones. She weaves in stories about her practice, her medical training and her own personal stories in a way that carry the stories forward, and brought me to tears by the end. We have lots of shows and books that talk about birth and pregnancy, but there is little to help us prepare for the death of family and friends, and our own demise. That is where books like this shine a light on a part of life that was familiar to our own grandparents and ancestors, but has become a bit taboo in recent years. I think my own experience with losing both of my parents would have been less scary and traumatic, had I had some information and preparation before the event.

  19. 4 out of 5

    carole

    A fantastic and fascinating read, written with such love and compassion. Not a read for the faint of heart as it clearly touches he souls of many. Death does not discriminate between young and old. All of or bodies death will lay claim to them sooner or later. The journeys we find ourselves taking in life, we eventually live them on our journey to death. Rachel Clarke does what writers do and clarifies clearly how doctors chart the curve of prognosis through to death. She does this with sheer compass A fantastic and fascinating read, written with such love and compassion. Not a read for the faint of heart as it clearly touches he souls of many. Death does not discriminate between young and old. All of or bodies death will lay claim to them sooner or later. The journeys we find ourselves taking in life, we eventually live them on our journey to death. Rachel Clarke does what writers do and clarifies clearly how doctors chart the curve of prognosis through to death. She does this with sheer compassion. She writes so vividly about how the death of her father has such an emotional impact on her and her young family. Also how many people’s life’s he had touch as his work as a magnificent caring GP. The loving care of her dad given by her mum. The extraordinary love from one person to another. This book I would recommend to anyone. I wish I had read it before I lost my dearest friend. Would I have changed anything? Probably not, because like Rachel says “ the best thing we can do is be there and share all those great memories with your loved one. This doesn’t make things easier for you but it does make your parting gift to them even more precious.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Phoebe

    This was good but potentially too autobiographical for my taste. I suppose whilst she's a very inspirational woman it went on for too long about her childhood and not enough about the actual medicine. The first 100 pages or so were very slow but it got much better as if went on. I think it's an important read in terms of opening discussion about death and having those difficult conversations about palliative care. It also highlighted the poor mental health treatment in NHS care and how desperate This was good but potentially too autobiographical for my taste. I suppose whilst she's a very inspirational woman it went on for too long about her childhood and not enough about the actual medicine. The first 100 pages or so were very slow but it got much better as if went on. I think it's an important read in terms of opening discussion about death and having those difficult conversations about palliative care. It also highlighted the poor mental health treatment in NHS care and how desperately that needs to change.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    A moving and heartfelt look at palliative and hospice care today. The author writes so poetically that it’s no shock that she is a former journalist and avid reader herself; she writes about terrifying and difficult topics but still manages to find a way to make the stories beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed the authors last book, which I can also heartily recommend to fans of this genre. I’m eagerly anticipating her next release, due in 2021, about the global COVID-19 pandemic. This is a must read A moving and heartfelt look at palliative and hospice care today. The author writes so poetically that it’s no shock that she is a former journalist and avid reader herself; she writes about terrifying and difficult topics but still manages to find a way to make the stories beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed the authors last book, which I can also heartily recommend to fans of this genre. I’m eagerly anticipating her next release, due in 2021, about the global COVID-19 pandemic. This is a must read for all staff and patients of the NHS.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Linda Fallows

    This such an important book. It should be required reading for all health professionals. The frank and honest way in which the author describes her dealings with terminally ill people show that death is not something to fear, or be hidden away. We should all hope, at the time of our death, we are in the hands of someone so caring.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nikki Cotter

    This is beautifully written and thought provoking read. It offers real food for thought about the way in which we respond and react to terminal illness and how our capacity for compassion paired with understanding and love can bring huge comfort to the grieving. Highly recommended.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    My review on my blog My review on my blog

  25. 4 out of 5

    BooksAndRae

    This is such a beautifully written book. Clarke describes how she swayed from a career in journalism to medicine with the stories of her father - him being a doctor - and patients that she writes about with so much compassion. This book highlights death in such a magnificent way, not thinking about it as such a horrifying thing. This work took the ideas and memories of death in a whole new direction which I appreciated reading and I know others will as well. Thank you Netgalley and the publishers This is such a beautifully written book. Clarke describes how she swayed from a career in journalism to medicine with the stories of her father - him being a doctor - and patients that she writes about with so much compassion. This book highlights death in such a magnificent way, not thinking about it as such a horrifying thing. This work took the ideas and memories of death in a whole new direction which I appreciated reading and I know others will as well. Thank you Netgalley and the publishers for providing me with this opportunity of reading this arc in exchange for my honest review.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tracy

    A brilliant and well written aspiring book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Duke Dahl

    4.7/5: Dear Life is a touching, poetically written book about death. The author, Rachel Clarke, is a palliative care doctor who stresses the importance of compassion and connection during the final stage of life. Death is a unique human experience for each person; but as humans we have the choice to decide how we respond to this fate of being mortal. FULL TAKEAWAYS: https://bulletpointreading.com/2021/0... 4.7/5: Dear Life is a touching, poetically written book about death. The author, Rachel Clarke, is a palliative care doctor who stresses the importance of compassion and connection during the final stage of life. Death is a unique human experience for each person; but as humans we have the choice to decide how we respond to this fate of being mortal. FULL TAKEAWAYS: https://bulletpointreading.com/2021/0...

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (JC-S)

    ‘If doctors cannot fix things, then what is the point of us?’ Rachel Clarke, daughter of a physician, came to medicine after a career in journalism. Her father, an important part of this book, was also a doctor. While completing her training in Britain, Ms Clarke was drawn to palliative care. This book is part biography, part meditation on the role of medicine in death and dying. I read this book, remembering my own parents experience with palliative care, in Tasmania, ten and seven years ago. One ‘If doctors cannot fix things, then what is the point of us?’ Rachel Clarke, daughter of a physician, came to medicine after a career in journalism. Her father, an important part of this book, was also a doctor. While completing her training in Britain, Ms Clarke was drawn to palliative care. This book is part biography, part meditation on the role of medicine in death and dying. I read this book, remembering my own parents experience with palliative care, in Tasmania, ten and seven years ago. One experience, in a palliative care setting, was caring and supportive. The other experience, in a general hospital, was more focussed on suggesting interventions. Both sets of medical professionals were caring, both wanted the best outcomes, but one was much more accepting of the inevitability of death. I know which I would prefer for myself. I kept reading, remembering my own experiences of nursing the dying during the 1970s. And, more recently, the experiences of friends. A wife who suffered, a husband who had a peaceful death. Different professionals, different approaches to what was (in both cases) inevitable. What makes Ms Clarke’s book special for me is her writing about her father’s death. While the trained professional knows what is coming, the daughter is grief-stricken. What we know in theory is never quite enough to equip us to deal with personal experience. ‘That grief is the form that love takes when someone dies.’ At times heartbreaking, at times uplifting. This is a book focussed on life. It is a book which invites the reader to think about death as a part of life, and to remember that those dying are still living. It is a reminder, as well, of some of the ethical issues surrounding life and death. I am glad I read this book. Jennifer Cameron-Smith

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mike Jennings

    Well ... here's the story. My Dad passed away two weeks ago and I stayed with him in his home for the last three days and nights. He was heavily medicated and in a deep sleep mostly, so I was basically watching him die (my Mum passed away six years ago). After he had died, in the week that followed I needed to clear his things from the flat so I could hand the keys back to the landlord. This entailed many trips to the household waste recycling place, the queue for which is always long at this ti Well ... here's the story. My Dad passed away two weeks ago and I stayed with him in his home for the last three days and nights. He was heavily medicated and in a deep sleep mostly, so I was basically watching him die (my Mum passed away six years ago). After he had died, in the week that followed I needed to clear his things from the flat so I could hand the keys back to the landlord. This entailed many trips to the household waste recycling place, the queue for which is always long at this time of viral-infection-panic. So ... I'm in a long queue and I decide to turn on the radio (BBC Radio 4) and as I turn it on, someone is reading a chapter from a book about palliative care and the way we treat dying people in the modern world. I couldn't have heard a more appropriate story than the one being read over the airwaves at that moment - and it was this book "Dear Life" that the narrator was reading. I ordered it online as soon as I arrived back home. Probably the best and most useful non-fiction book I have ever read. Simple as that. We are all going to die at some point, and I have struggled with that knowledge since I discovered it as 'truth' aged 12. This book helps with that long lasting fear and it helps with the emotions I feel now after losing the last of my parents. It is a superbly written, very human account of palliative care, how it is delivered and the effect it can have on those in their final days and weeks. Buy it, read it and you'll understand a little more about (real) life than you did before you picked this book up. Highly recommended. Get the hardcover if only for the inspired choice of sky blue for the endpapers. After a chapter of high emotions, some amount of dread and then tales of selfless comfort those bright pages are a lift for the spirit. At least they were for me.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Harriet Chaplin

    The best book I have read this year - I cannot recommend it highly enough! I’d like to start by saying that Rachel’s writing style is so eloquent; her use of language is truly beautiful, and immensely pleasurable to read. The book itself follows the journey of a doctor working in palliative care, and a number of encounters she has with death and the dying. An important relationship underpins the entire book and becomes poignant later on; the significance of this relationship is cleverly concealed The best book I have read this year - I cannot recommend it highly enough! I’d like to start by saying that Rachel’s writing style is so eloquent; her use of language is truly beautiful, and immensely pleasurable to read. The book itself follows the journey of a doctor working in palliative care, and a number of encounters she has with death and the dying. An important relationship underpins the entire book and becomes poignant later on; the significance of this relationship is cleverly concealed but is instrumental in bringing everything together. 2020 has been a truly devastating year, and I chose this book because I wanted to read something that would help me come to terms with the fact that life ends. Rachel delicately depicts the gut-wrenching, inevitability of death, and draws on the things that are truly important at the end, that we often overlook. It made me smile and it made me weep. If you read one book next year - make it this one!

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