Most of us won’t get any say in how or when we die. But even knowing that, the question of what makes a good death feels important, even urgent. What is the best that we can realistically hope for, at the end? If you subscribe to an organised religion, you might focus on living virtuously in the hope of a posthumous reward. The rest of us need to know how to go about dying with some dignity and grace, amid the grubby imperfection of the real world. The Australian writer Cory Taylor managed it, and she has left us her wisdom and experience in this book, which is part memoir, part critical examination of western society’s dysfunctional relationship with mortality.
Taylor was 60 when she was told that what had started off as a melanoma was now incurable cancer. She had already witnessed the reality of “dying badly”: both her parents died in nursing homes after long and humiliating descents into dementia. The last time Taylor saw her mother, she watched as a nurse changed her nappy. “The look in my mother’s eyes as she turned and saw me,” she writes, “reminded me of an animal in unspeakable torment.” Taylor’s one comforting thought when she received her own terminal diagnosis was that she wouldn’t have to go like that: she had the time, and the mental capacity, to find her way towards a better death.