In spite of what the title may lead you to think, this book is more about how to live and love well. It’s about his courage to face that which we most want to turn away from—death—and how facing death helps one live well.
“...to help ensure a good exit, one thing is fully within our power. We can take care of unfinished business. We can make peace with ourselves, reconcile, where possible with our loved ones, and free ourselves to say yes to the cosmos, to embrace our lives and deaths, to make peace with God.”
I first learned of Church when I heard him interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air. I was impressed by his equanimity, his acceptance, (dare I say cheerfulness?) in spite of his situation: being in his late 50s and faced with the news that he had malignant cancer.
How does one live so that this news does not cause trauma? In this book, Church shares his wisdom. He offers many gems, of which I’ll share three. He advises:
Want what you have.
Be who you are.
Do what you can.
The book is more than the story of his illness, though it is that, too, told with courage. He offers advice on how to visit someone in the hospital—advice informed by his experience as the patient.
He urges us, above, all to sow the seeds of love in our lives. Here, I’ll quote a bit from the introduction:
"Death is not life’s goal, only life’s terminus. The goal is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for. This is where love comes into the picture. The one thing that can’t be taken from us, even by death, is the love we give away before we go.
Today I turn to the dual theme of love and death with a new sense of urgency. On February 4, 2008 I informed the members and friends of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City whose destiny and mine have been linked for so many years, that my esophageal cancer, first diagnosed and treated in the fall of 2006, had returned with a vengeance and that my time remaining was likely to be numbered in months, not years. “I won’t predict how my body will hold up during the course of treatment,” I wrote, “but I can tell you what I hope to do. Though all of our stories end in the middle, with ongoing business piled high, I should like to end my story, if I may, by summing up my thoughts on love and death in a book that might bring as much comfort to others as you have brought to me.”