Next week, on Ash Wednesday, we will do what we always do on that day – talk about the truth that we all are going to die.  That hard reality is one we’d rather avoid.  And yet, here we are, reeling with 468,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S., and with 2.35 million deaths worldwide (as of 2/10/2021).  This year, it’s unavoidable.

This year, in preparation for this Ash Wednesday, and for the six weeks of Lent that follow, let’s face our mortality together, as a community of faith, trusting that we belong to God.  As a companion, let’s read author Katy Butler’s honest, achingly beautiful book, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life.

Anyone who has parents, grandparents, or siblings over 60 will benefit from her practical ideas.  And anyone who is over 60 themselves will discover wisdom for their own journey of aging.  For instance, about Advanced Directives:


Nothing could be kinder to people who love you than to give them clear guidance for the hardest decisions they may ever have to make.  And little could be more empowering than protecting yourself from unwanted medical treatments that now, far too often, dehumanize modern death (p. 25).


Butler covers medical, practical, financial and spiritual topics, woven together into:


a step-by-step guide to remaining as healthy and happy as possible, and as medically informed and unafraid, through the predictable health stages of later life, from vigorous old age to final breath (p. 8).


Butler names her chapters Resilience, Slowing Down, Adaptation, Awareness of Mortality, House of Cards, Preparing for a Good Death, and Active Dying.  At the end she includes a much-needed glossary of medical terms to help us better interpret what doctors are trying to tell us.  Butler’s goal is to make death bearable, shared and even, in its own way, beautiful.


These days, many of us may be more concerned about developing dementia than dying.  Butler’s letter amending her advanced directive describes her practical understanding of comfort care.  Its detail is worth considering (pp. 127-129).


In a few months my mother will turn 85.  She lives on the west coast.  I hope and pray I’ll be able to see her again, safely.  In the meantime, Butler’s book has given me conversation points and renewed awareness of the importance of living intentionally and expanding our sense of ‘family’.  In other words, this book is helping me, personally, and in relationship to others.  I commend it to you and those you love.


Do you, your parents and grandparents have advanced directives in place?

What does ‘a good death’ mean to you?


-Written by Ann Palmerton



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