Dying Well

Ira Byock, Author
Ira Byock, Author Riverhead Books $24.95 (299p) ISBN 978-1-57322-051-4
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 299 pages - 978-1-57322-657-8
Hardcover - 583 pages - 978-0-7862-1123-4
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This study of how to die well displays uncommon vitality. Byock, president elect of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care, is a gifted storyteller. Beginning with his own father's terminal illness, he details without scientific cant the process of decline that awaits most of us. The case studies, which form the humanistic soul of this work, never devolve into the maudlin or saccharine. Life on the edge of the great crossing is explored in all its sadness and pathos, but Byock also makes room for wisdom, hope and even the joy of final understanding. By recounting the passages of patients in his Missoula, Mont., practice, Byock makes a forceful case for hospice care and against physician-assisted suicide. He demonstrates how the physical pain and emotional despair of the dying may be handled. The family constellation of the terminally ill is also analyzed, with emphasis on a hospice's ability, through its doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers, to help those left behind. Not only is this book informative, especially the question-and-answer section at the end, it is also insightful. Readers will sense Byock's personal growth as his understanding of final issues flowers through a 20-year specialization. Byock recalls his growth from a callow resident to a concerned son and, finally, to a healer with a mission. Whether it's the middle-aged mother who must resolve disillusionment with her sister, the bitter father of three who achieves serenity or the gutsy teenage girl with a rare genetic disease, the people whose sojourns Byock recounts receive from him the dignity they merit. German rights to Kinder Verlag; author tour. (Jan.)
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