I just began reading Stephen Jenkinson’s amazing book , Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul. And as most profound, deeply informed, highly reflective writing as apt to do it has significantly shifted my thinking about my relationships, my mortality, and what really matters in my life.
With chapter titles like “The Ordeal Of A Managed Death”, “Stealing Meaning From Dying”, “The Tyrant Of Hope”, and my favourite, “So Who Are The Dying To You? Who Are The Dead?” Jenkinson, a renown theologian, author, teacher, speaker, and consultant to palliative care and hospice organizations, teaches us “the skills of dying”. However, I as read (and reread) the early stages of the book, I have come to recognize that Jenkinson has been teaching me more about the skills of living than death. Compassion. Empathy. Truth. Beauty. For self and for others. Written with beautiful prose, meandering thoughts, and unapologetic purpose, Die Wise offers a very compelling argument that our acceptance of death is only part of our individual narratives.
Full disclosure: Viewing the promotional video below could never replace Jenkinson’s written call to arms version, but it is worth watching…
“As a [parent] dying wise is the last gift you have to give to your children.”
From his introductory description of the early history of palliative care in western societies to exploring the mysteriousness of death and suicide, Jenkinson weaves personal narratives from over two decades in the palliative care industry or “death trade” with his personal mission on what it means to “die wise”. He decisively and acutely outlines three essential questions that his manifest attempts to tackle:
Why is it so hard to die?
Why do we have to learn how to do it?
Why, if dying is so common, is it so much a mysterious, troubling thing among us?
Recently, my father underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He is recovering well and the prognosis has been chalked a “success”. Both the initial diagnosis and ensuing surgery, however, came as shocks to everyone. I considered my father, at 78 years of age, to be young at heart; literally and figuratively. But, apparently, he was not the former. He does not smoke, drink, eat crappy food; he exercises daily either swimming laps in the pool or walking two rounds of golf). The idea of mortality came further crashing down around me when two men in our community (not more than five or six older) suffered massive fatal heart attacks. This shit, as they say, is real.
I wondered if talking and writing about death, dying, suicide, and our fear of all three are avenues towards Jenkinson’s epitome of dying wise. I also hold no illusions that Die Wise will take some time for me to read from cover to cover. I will be challenged to multiple readings and continually revisit its ideas. To ask myself questions about dying.
For as long as I live.