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Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved): Send me suggestions about death and dying

I continue to obsess about death. The unanticipated consequence of happiness coupled with atheism means I’m a moth to the flame of books contemplating how it all just… ends. I suppose the current preoccupation has encouraged me to be more mindful, more present, more enthusiastically here (!) for (!) each (!) moment (!). But I’m pretty sure the return to work and increasing size in diapers would do the same with less morbidity. All this to say, I’ve read another book about dying, and in keeping with everything else I’ve read in this (hitherto unknown to me) genre, it was great.

Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved is part elegy, part history, part reflection. Bowler, a religious historian of the prosperity gospel (luck is a sign of God’s love, bad luck is a sign of God’s disapproval – or not luck, actually, but good fortune – think mansions, diamonds and televangelists), is diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. Given months to live, she chronicles here her confrontation with her mortality (and reflects, too, on the omnipresent metaphors of battle (e.g. confrontation) accorded to encounters with death and cancer, specifically).

I found the sections of personal reflection, unsurprisingly perhaps, the most affecting. Bowler has a young son, and much of her grief is tied to the recognition that she will not live to see him grow and age. The moments of her reflection on the compression of time, of her experience of the present that will become her son’s past, are moving and poetically written.

Sections describing the intersection of the prosperity gospel and her experience carried, for me, less impact. It may be that my atheist affiliation means that I am not overly concerned by the calculus that goes into discovering how an experience is, or is not, evidence of God, or of God’s benevolence or malevolence or  or or. That said it’s not a preachy book – at all – in fact Bowler’s particular beliefs about or in relation to God skate under the surface. The descriptions and considerations of God here read as an academic reporting with the particular poignancy of a personal experience that lends absolute credence to the thesis of the lecture. So I found the intersection of the religious present/history to be illuminating of her experience, but not as readily identifiable and gripping.

Like Grief Works there is a handy appendix of things *not* to say to those experiencing grief or terminal illness (for instance, ‘everything happens for a reason’) along with a selection of things you *can* do (like bringing presents or offering hugs or being silent).

I don’t think I’ve read enough in this genre (it is a genre then, isn’t it? Books about death and dying?) to know how this one stacks up against others. I just know that for me, I read it quickly, I stopped frequently to stare in the middle distance and have a little waaaa, and I thought I’d like to read a little more. So I turn to you: what are the books about death and dying you’ve found most affecting? most connecting? most useful?

 

p.s. Thanks to my Guelph book club friends for suggesting this one.

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