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Handbook for Mortals : Living With Serious Illness


Over and over, as they realize that they are facing serious and incurable illness, patients and their loved ones ask doctors and nurses: "What do I do now?" And they really mean that they do not see what comes next or how a good person should act. Most Americans get a serious illness at a time when they have very little practical understanding of how to live with illness and very few images of how things could, or should, turn out. The first thing to remember is that you really do now more than you might think. You can trust yourself.

Before in your life, you have made decisions, faced challenges, and found what is important to you. You will now, too. This text aims to help. It builds on a quiet conviction that people, even very sick or very burdened people, have remarkable spirits, inspiring creativity, the capacity to cope with illness and mortality, and the wonderfully human drive to find one's own life's meaning.

Living with a serious illness can open up an unexpected variety of new possibilities.

You may feel freed to do those things you put off until someday, even though your activities are likely to be restricted by the unpredictability of good days and bad days. You may open yourself up to the love and care of those around you, even as you try not to overburden others with your needs. You may find deep meaning in the smallest of things, even if you question your faith in the greater powers of the universe. And you may glimpse, even face squarely, the certainty of earthly mortality, no matter your beliefs about what is to come. You will often confront the uncertainty of not knowing exactly when death will come.

Serious illness can be a time of growth, meaning, and healing. Many people find, often to their surprise, that the period of time when life may be short is a very precious time. When you are dying, you should do those things you have always wanted to do. Families and friends may want to hear your old stories one more time and to share with you their hopes and dreams and worries. They may look to you for blessings and advice. You and those you love will often look to a shared faith in God, nature, and each other to make some sense of life and death.

You may find the opportunity to heal relationships that were torn apart long ago. This time will not always be comfortable or rewarding. But coming to terms with the limits of life is a job that each thinking person has to undertake, and it can be so meaningful to you and to those around you.

You may not think that you have taken on a "search for meaning," but that is one thing that most people actually do when dying (though you may say it differently). For some, the search reassures them that they have lived life as well as they could. Others find new insights and make commitments to live the rest of life a little differently. Either way, your loved ones will remember your experience and use it to shape their own when their time comes. This module is full of people, stories, ideas, and advice to help you find more of this kind of meaningfulness in the final phase of your life.

Dying, though, can also be a time of frustration, fear, poor communication, and physical discomfort. This module, and others that go with it, offers stories and practical advice on getting through these problems, too. You will find help for managing pain and other symptoms, talking with your doctor, and wrestling with some of the difficult issues that may arise.

To learn more about the book "Handbook for Mortals" click here.