Recently the Women’s Book Club met to discuss Being Mortal, by Dr. Atul Gawande. I had read this book twice, and was looking forward to discussing this with my community. There is so much that was interesting in this book--stories of people growing older, or with fatal illnesses, with their families and doctors making decisions about how to manage their lives with pain, decreased mobility, and doubtful therapies. Interspersed is information about nursing homes, hospice care, and palliative care. We hear about Dr. Gawande’s own journey as a physician, learning how to ask patients better questions instead of just giving facts, and what it was like for him to go through his father’s illness and decisions about which therapies to follow.
The title Being Mortal keeps calling to me. It implies that we will not live forever--being mortal means we will die. In fact the subtitle of the book—“Medicine and What Matters in the End”—underscores that there is an end, that we have an end. As a church community we’ve had times to gather and celebrate someone’s life even as we mourn the loss to us who remain. We say we don’t fear death because of our faith in a resurrection. But really our faith isn’t only for the future and what happens after our death, but for us to be alive and in the world, now. We have the opportunityto be Jesus for each other, to care for one another, to care for the earth, to love our enemies.
Discussion flowed freely, and we shared a lot of our own stories. Like the congregation, the Women’s Book Group includes people of all ages, and we are married, single, widowed, some with children and grandchildren. There are always stories. And it’s what makes this group, and this congregation, so dear to me. I left the discussion that Saturday full of joy.
There is a lot about sickness and dying in the book. And we talked a lot about those things in our lives. In spite of all the wonderful gifts Medicine can offer us, to prolong our lives, to ease our pain, it cannot prevent death. The discussion (the laughter, the tears) reminded me that we are all in this together. In a sense, this means we are being mortal together. And what better place to be mortal together than in a church community.
I looked around the book group as I look around the congregation each week, and see people who I’ve known for years, people I don’t know well, and remember the people who are far away and the people who have died. Yes, we are mortal, and we have known sickness and death, but we are together. Thanks be to God!