Signs of Life: A Memoir of Dying and Discovery

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Brookes, known for his mastery of the English language, turns an account of the death of his mother into a work hailed as literature by book critics, and as moving testimony of the value of hospice care by leaders of the hospice movement.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Freelance journalist Brookes (Catching My Breath: An Asthmatic Explores His Illness) had begun an investigation into the growing hospice movement, which advocates alleviating pain and involving patients in their own dying process, when he learned that his mother, who lived in England, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Although he reports here on his mainly positive view of hospice care, he interweaves his impressions with a haunting account of how he, his brother and two sisters (also in England) coped with their mother's illness. Brookes brings his mother's strong, independent spirit to life and vividly describes how dealing with her impending death brought problems as well as a renewed intimacy to their relationship on the two occasions he flew to England to visit her. The family dynamics among the siblings demonstrate how people cope very differently with grief. Brookes presents an effective argument against the societal denial of death and praises the hospice movement for giving the dying both control and comfort. Author tour. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
The news that his mother is dying of cancer transforms a journalist's inquiry into the growing hospice movement—what might have been a full-fledged investigative report becomes a moving, highly personal memoir.

Brookes, who teaches writing at the University of Vermont and whose essays are heard frequently on National Public Radio, demonstrated his skill at weaving reporting and personal experience into a seamless whole in his exploration of asthma (Catching My Breath, 1994). Here the personal story takes clear precedence. When Brookes began his research, he decided he needed to see a dead body and arranged to view an embalmed cadaver awaiting dissection in a laboratory. It was an unsettling experience. Months later, he was called to the bedside of his dying mother at a hospice in England. Between these two charged events, Brookes learned a great deal about life at its extreme, the needs of the dying, our fear of death, the differences between suffering and pain, the limits of palliative care, and the gap between hospice philosophy and real-life practice. An exile, he also learned a great deal about what home and family meant to him. From time to time, there's a hint of what the book might have been had circumstances been different. As a reporter, Brookes looks at the hospice movement with a far more critical eye than hospice doctors do in their own writings (see Michael Kearney, Mortally Wounded, p. 1996, and Ira Byock, Dying Well, 1996). Noting its persistent confusion over the nature of its spiritual mission, he comments that the hospice movement's "graceful New Age ecumenical dance" is likely to be pulled apart by the stronger forces of medical science and established religion.

An affecting memoir by a talented writer that leaves the reader regretting that he did not probe even more widely and deeply into the nature and role of the hospice.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780942679229
  • Publisher: Upper Access
  • Publication date: 10/28/1999
  • Edition description: 2ND
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Tim Brookes, perhaps best-known as a long-time commentator on National Public Radio, researched issues involving death and hospice care at a time when his efforts were intertwined with care for his dying mother. The resulting book has become a classic on death and dying-practical considerations as well as the search for meaning in life and death.
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