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Book review: One Last Thing by Wendy Mitchell with Anna Wharton

15 December 2023

Anne C. Holmes reads the last of an author’s reflections on dementia

THIS is the last of three books (Books, 17 June 2022) recounting the author’s experience of being diagnosed with dementia in 2018 at the age of 58. If dementia is a “cruel disease”, it is particularly cruel to experience early-onset dementia. As the disease progresses, the co-author Anna Wharton is increasingly fundamental to the writing as Mitchell describes the intermittent sense of fog in her mind.

The book is a series of reflected conversations, each forming a chapter, notably on death, end-of-life care, refusing treatment, assisted dying, and life. The challenge for the reader is to join in these conversations, however difficult, as they can make a substantial difference both to the sufferers and to their relatives. In contrast to the recent study of Evangelical Christians interviewed by Tricia Williams (God’s Not Forgotten Me (Books, 23 June 2023)), there is no reference to a Christian faith, although the importance of the sanctity of life for many people is acknowledged.

Throughout the book, the determination of the author to help to bring about a change in the law provides a contrast to the relentless progression of her debilitating disease. It will be an asset for those who already support the case for assisted dying. It is challenging for those who prefer to leave the time of our death in God’s hands.

As I was reading the book, two elderly members of my family died after spending some time in residential care. Diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, they had been at home, but their respective spouses had come to the end of their capacity to care for them. I have found myself reflecting on what the sort of decision longed for by Mitchell would have offered or denied. The wish for choice and control is understandable, but it does place considerable pressure on the next-of-kin.

In Mitchell’s case, it comes across that her daughters are on board with her wishes. I do wonder how it would be when the time came for her life to be ended by decision rather than by natural causes. What if there were a split between the remaining relatives? Meanwhile, I have heard moving accounts of last visits to dying loved ones, and I wonder whose needs would be met by such a change in the law, even supposing it were possible.

What I really value about this story is the importance of having those difficult end-of-life conversations before it is too late. I wish Mitchell a peaceful end when the time comes.

The Revd Dr Anne C. Holmes, a former NHS mental-health chaplain, works as a psychotherapist and SSM in the diocese of Oxford.


One Last Thing
Wendy Mitchell with Anna Wharton
Bloomsbury £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

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