Last weekend I saw Dr Kathryn Mannix talk about her book: With the End in Mind for the second time. The first time was an author event at my local Waterstones, a short few months after my Grandma died, trying to make sense of life in grief. Following Dr Kathryn Mannix’s talk I purchased her book and devoured it in between tears. So when I saw that Dr Mannix would be talking at Durham Book Festival this year I had to go along to listen in a different light after reading With the End in Mind.
With the End in Mind is not simply a book about death or dying, it is so much more than that. With the End in Mind is ultimately a collection of people’s stories of living whilst dying through which Dr Mannix gently makes us less afraid of death. There are patterns throughout the book which brings to life that phrase about the fact that irrespective of who we are when we live we all leave this world the same way and there is something very comforting in this – especially when the versions of death given to us through popular culture can be terrifying at worst!
With the End in Mind creates so many opportunities of reflection on our lives and our perception of what it means to be alive. Dr Kathryn Mannix has such a beautiful ability to articulate the most tender of life’s experiences:
“There are only two days with fewer than 24 hours in each lifetime, sitting like bookmarks astride our lives: one is celebrated every year, yet it is the other that makes us see living as precious.”
Dr Mannix not only provides guidance and reassurance to general public, she is importantly advocating for a change in medical education. At present medical students do not have an obligation to be present at anyone’s death however there is an obligation that they will be present at a number of births. Doctors and nurses are generally in the profession because they care and they have an interest in supporting people through their whole life – including as they die so I for one find it absurd that we are not properly educating the next generation of medical staff to have the skills to be able to adequately support people. Dr Mannix told us: “A bad death is a medical failure but death is not a medical failure” and these are the kind of attitudes we need to shift within society as a whole. We live in a world of expanding technology and expect that so many things can just be repaired so accepting that it’s not possible with a loved one can be devastating but for this to change we must start talking about death for “death is a people thing not a medical thing.”
For the medical professionals reading this Dr Mannix gave some perfect advise in her talk, we have this idea that consultant physicians are the holy grail and less human than the rest of us however Dr Mannix shows us that no matter how expert you become, you must always be human. When working with poorly people you will likely always find yourself standing above them – an instant power stance before you have even begun. Dr Mannix tells us that she finds herself sitting, sometimes on the floor because “your head should not be higher than the patients head“. By doing this you shift from consultation to conversation which will always be helped by the addition of a cup of tea because “tea says that we are people“.
I could continue writing forever about how influential I believe Dr Kathryn Mannix and her book With the End in Mind are but I believe your time would be much better spent reading the book and discovering that yourself.
Be less afraid of the “D” word, start conversations with your loved ones and remember that this is living not dying.