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Death, dying, and bereavement are dark threads running through all literature. Not only are they life’s sole certainties, along with birth; they are also the biggest mysteries of biological science. What is gained in conception and birth, and what leaves the body at death? “The body dead is our world’s great secret … it’s our condition to not know.”1 Death, dying, and bereavement are written about in many ways: with personal anguish or clinical detachment, spiritually, practically, dramatically, horrifically, violently, lovingly, and gently. A large proportion of all poetry is devoted to these subjects (along with love of course). Fiction often hinges upon a death or a birth.
Medicine and health care pay increasing attention to the way death is managed. Reading is a way of listening and reflecting deeply on the vital experiences of others. This seemingly second hand knowledge can stand a clinician in good stead. Experiences of bereavement, death, and dying are intense and vital to those concerned; it is impossible to correct shortcomings of judgment, compassion or understanding later.
Death, and its associated suffering, is feared in our culture partly because it does not have a role in our everyday lives. The processes of dying, and dealing with a …