Dear Life – Dr Rachel Clarke

Published by: Little, Brown
Pages: 336
Date released: 30/01/2020
Date read: 03/06/2020

As a specialist in palliative medicine, Dr Rachel Clarke chooses to inhibit a place many people would find too tragic to contemplate. Every day she tries to bring care and comfort to those reaching the end of their lives and to help make dying more bearable.

Rachel’s training was put to the test in 2017 when her beloved GP father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She learned that nothing – even the best palliative care – can sugar-coat the pain of losing someone you love.

And yet, she argues, in a hospice there is more of what matters in life – more love, more strength, more kindness, more joy, more tenderness, more grace, more compassion – than you could ever imagine. For if there is a difference between people who know they are dying and the rest of us, is simply this: that the terminally ill know their time is running out, while we live as though we have all the time in the world.

Dear Life is a book about the vital important of human connection, by the doctor we would all want by our sides at a time of crisis. It is a love letter – to a father, to a profession, to life itself.

Like Rachel, my father was too diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2017, and he spent the last week of his life in a hospice. As bizarre as it sounds, I remember the hospice being a beautiful, happy, loving place for him to die in. it’s always difficult to explain to people that being in a hospice next to a dying person is not a sad place, yet Dr Rachel manages to explain what I mean clearly.

I’m not saying anything negative about hospitals here in my praise for hospices. My father also spent some time in hospital near the end of his life, and whilst he was cared for and treated well, there was simply not enough staff to go around. You would sometimes be waiting several hours to get medicine or a discharge letter to go home. The staff – the nurses, doctors, porters, cleaners etc. – in a hospital are all lovely and so amazing at their jobs, but the truth is, there simply is not enough of them.

Whereas in the hospice, there always seemed to be a nurse to talk to. On one particular day, a nurse took nearly an hour out of her day to sit with me in private to talk through my fears and my worries. And I cannot tell you how important that was for me in that time.

Most people who haven’t experienced it, think that being in a place that experiences severe illness and death on a daily basis would be morbid, tiring, draining. But it’s completely the opposite. I cannot speak for the staff, but as a relative of a patient I found it life-affirming, calm and like a family.

I like the idea of following in Dr Rachel’s footsteps and working with terminally ill patients as I cannot think of anything that could give someone more satisfaction than knowing they have provided an easy to the most difficult phase of someone’s life. Unfortunately, I think I am too emotional to be able to keep a professional distance, but that doesn’t stop me being in absolute awe of all doctors and nurses and care workers who make death just as important as the other aspects of life.

Through my own experience, and through Dr Rachel’s writing, I have learnt that dying and death is nothing to be afraid of. And I hope when my time comes, I have someone like Dr Rachel at my side.

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