Summary and book reviews of Dear Life by Rachel Clarke

Dear Life

A Doctor's Story of Love and Loss

by Rachel Clarke

Dear Life by Rachel Clarke X
Dear Life by Rachel Clarke
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     Not Yet Rated
  • Published:
    Sep 2020, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rory L. Aronsky
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About this Book

Book Summary

In Dear Life, palliative care specialist Dr. Rachel Clarke recounts her professional and personal journey to understand not the end of life, but life at its end.

Death was conspicuously absent during Rachel's medical training. Instead, her education focused entirely on learning to save lives, and was left wanting when it came to helping patients and their families face death. She came to specialize in palliative medicine because it is the one specialty in which the quality, not quantity of life truly matters.

In the same year she started to work in a hospice, Rachel was forced to face tragedy in her own life when her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He'd inspired her to become a doctor, and the stories he had told her as a child proved formative when it came to deciding what sort of medicine she would practice. But for all her professional exposure to dying, she remained a grieving daughter.

Dear Life follows how Rachel came to understand―as a child, as a doctor, as a human being―how best to help patients in the final stages of life, and what that might mean in practice.

Excerpt
Dear Life

For a child of the 1970s, death by Dalek, werewolf, cyborg or shark was the absolute highlight of British television, the grislier the better. We knew our glee at the gore was faintly indecent, but this was celluloid make-believe, fantasy dying, and hence a permissible pleasure.

Once, though, around this time, Dad told me a story that made death – perhaps for the first time in my life – feel unnervingly close to home. My father was a physician for forty years, most of them practising as a general practitioner in an era when family doctors cared for their local community night and day, every day of the year. Before that, like his own father before him, he had sailed the high seas as a medic in the Royal Navy, and his seafaring stories transfixed me. His speciality, in my view, imbued him with the dark arts of a witch doctor. As a naval anaesthetist, he possessed the ominous power, via mysterious vapours, to 'put people to sleep' – which was, I noted,...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Reading British doctor Rachel Clarke's memoir about her life and career in palliative care, I felt a sense of the support I wish I'd had then. Dear Life should be in hospital waiting rooms, in chemotherapy clinics, in doctors' offices where the bad news might come today or next week. I am relieved to discover this complete, gentle understanding of what my family and I went through when my father was dying. Clarke is an unassuming healer now for the thousands, or even millions of people that I hope will read this book...continued

Full Review Members Only (759 words).

(Reviewed by Rory L. Aronsky).

Media Reviews

Daily Mail (UK)
[Clarke's] intention is not to be maudlin or sensationalist. Rather, what she wants us to grasp is that we have nothing to fear about reaching the end of our lives. It’s not just that a skilled hospice doctor will know exactly how to administer the right amount of morphine – just enough to ease the physical pain, not enough to fog the intellect – but she will understand the emotional and spiritual needs of her patients too.

Stylist (UK)
A truly moving medical memoir. Clarke writes so movingly about what it means to face death, the grief that gets left behind and how hospices do such vital work in allowing people to die being looked after and surrounded by the people they love.

BBC (UK)
A memoir about caring for people on the edge of death. Though indisputably a time of sorrow, Clarke tries to show that in the face of death can be found the things that really matter in life, including the strength and compassion of which we are all capable.

Financial Times (UK)
Warm and empathetic account affirms that a hospice is all about life, not death.

The Sunday Times (UK)
Moving, funny and compulsively readable, it's part love letter, part lament to a great ideal that [Clarke] believes is being starved of the resources it needs to thrive.

The Observer (UK)
Though a new medical memoir seems to come along every five minutes just now, this one is special. Clarke, a doctor who works in palliative medicine, [...] has written a book, beautiful and blessedly un-mawkish, about her experiences. Among its pages are true horrors for those involved, but also a numinous beauty. Her words are brimful of love, grace and kindness – and by being so, put the place where this piece began firmly in perspective.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Clarke's message is especially timely as we continue to face a global pandemic, and she also includes practical advice on end-of-life preparations and helpful notes about relevant resources. Death comes to all of us; these authentic stories show how it can be met with strength and grace instead of fear.

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Beyond the Book

Cicely Saunders and Palliative Care

Cicely SaundersIn Dear Life, Dr. Rachel Clarke recalls being inspired to shift her medical career from emergency room work to palliative care after serving as a fierce advocate for Pat, her fiancé's dying mother. Cicely Saunders is widely credited with creating palliative care as we know it today. So what inspired Saunders to pursue this particular path?

Saunders was born in Barnet in North London in 1918. As a child she was afflicted by a crooked spine, a condition that caused considerable pain. She was also taller than all the other girls at her boarding school. These circumstances produced an affinity for outsiders that informed the rest of her life and her career.

Saunders wanted to be a nurse, but her father was staunchly against it, so ...

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