23 September 2014

Book Review: In the Midst of Life

In the Midst of Life by Jennifer Worth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is a bit of a change in tone from the others (that I've read so far - I still have Farewell to the East End: The Last Days of the East End Midwives to read). It is more serious and sombre in tone, and the sense of nostalgia and memory is missing. This is not to its detriment however, as the book poses many questions and dilemmas that plague modern society thanks to the advancement of medicine. This is to say though that if you want more Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s. Jennifer Worth, then I suggest you give it a miss.

Death and dying is hidden away in modern life. We celebrate births and marriages, but is that final milestone that we find so hard to confront (either before it happens, during and after). Obviously, it is not a pleasant experience but does that mean it is something to be hidden? Jennifer Worth writes about those she knew in their last days with great practicality, logic and a firm belief that the way we die and the way we treat the dying has changed dramatically alongside the advancement of medicine. There was once a time where the dead and dying were farewelled by family and friends with grace and quiet reflection, each able to grieve in their own ways. Today however, Grandma and Grandpa are not laid out in the good room to be farewelled by all (from the smallest child to the eldest friend). Children are shielded from something it is perceived they cannot handle, from something that is entirely natural. Worth asks us to question if this is right; she asks us if death is really something to be feared.

There are no real answers (how can their be?), but there is plentiful 'food for thought'. Worth asks the important questions about how we deal with the ending of a life, as we are ourselves "in the midst of life". She asks us if we treat the dying how they may should be treated. And she asks us if modern medicine's ability to extend life is always a good thing - is there dignity and peace in death, do the dying have a right to choose to die, what kind of life is lead after being 'saved'? She asks us: is this all for the best?


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