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Light in a sickroom

by
11 September 2015

Many would find this first-person reflection encouraging, says David Bryant

Faithful Farewell: Living your last chapter with love
Marilyn Chandler McEntyre
Eerdmans £10.99
(978-0-8028-7260-9)
Church Times Bookshop £9.90 (Use code CT611)

 

 

THIS book is a compendium of reflections on the final journey to death.

Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes in the first person, as though she is speaking from the sick bed, and this gives the text a sense of immediacy. The result is a soul-baring poignancy that offers much food for thought both to the dying and to those who care for and about them. Each short section is accompanied by a biblical verse, and concludes with a prayer that sets God at the heart of the human experience.

As a professor of medical humanities and a long-term hospice volunteer, the author has seen the pathway leading to the end of life in all its moods and physical states. The harsh realities of approaching death are not sidestepped, and with sensitivity and compassion she deals with the difficult topics of pain, loss of dignity, nausea, and bodily atrophy.

Her faith shines out. She views the last days as a journey infused with the love of God, and firmly believes in a life beyond this earthly one. There are guidelines on how helpers can sometimes inadvertently cause distress, and she constantly reminds the reader that the pilgrimage from this world involves pain and emotional suffering, not only for the dying, but for the carers as well.

There are nuggets of gold on the way. It is good that she draws them out; for it injects a note of hope and peace into the darkness. The sounds of children playing cricket outside, of squirrels scampering in the tree, come through the window and bring joy. Fragments of remembered poetry and favourite biblical verses are the harbingers of calm. Kindness abounds, blessings are never far away, and there is sometimes laughter, even in the confines of the patient’s room.

My only reservation is that McEntyre is not dying herself: she is an onlooker. As such, she can vicariously share the sufferings of the bedridden, but she cannot fully enter into the mind of those living out their last days.

That said, this book reads as a grace-filled encouragement to the dying, and a comfort to those who nurse and love them.

 

The Revd David Bryant is a retired priest living in Yorkshire.

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