Dear Life by Rachel Clarke. A doctor's story of love and loss. Palliative care books

” We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the may fall.”

-Maggie O’Farrell, I Am, I Am, I Am

From the Sunday Times bestselling author of Your Life in My Hands comes this vibrant, tender and deeply personal memoir that finds light and love in the darkest of places.

As a specialist in palliative medicine, Dr Rachel Clarke chooses to inhabit 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, it 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 importance 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.

Duffy’s Thoughts on Dear Life

I get asked almost every day “what book are you reading this week?”, usually it’s a twisty, dark domestic thriller, or sometimes a great sweary self-help book. However, the response I got when I said “I’m reading a book about end of life”, was one of awkwardness and mild surprise.

Dear Life is far from a depressing read. Rachel Clarke weaves her own life, career and the passing of her father with anecdotes and stories about the many people she has cared for in their last months.

I am not sure anything conveys the essenceof palliative care quite like ‘My Life’s Stem Was Cut’, one of Dunmore’s final poems in which, though painfully aware of life’s brevity, she describes her concious decision to bloom while dying. The poem concludes with devastating simplicity.

I know I am dying

But why not keep flowering

As long as I can

From my cut stem

-Rachel Clarke, Dear Life

What I discovered in Dear Life, is that when time runs out, the little things become hugely important and that people can react in very different ways. Resignation, indignation, utter loss and heartbreak, or an unwavering faith that something will change and it will all turn around.

Clarke’s prose gives away her previous life as a journalist, but more so her career in palliative care. Stories are told with gentle empathy yet a balance and distance, such as the messages she must have delivered hundreds of times to families over the years.

A unique read and intimate perspective on how we deal with end of life, what really happens in a hospice and how a doctor who deals with the dying every day, dealt with her own father’s passing.

I feel richer for the experience. An excellent non-fiction read, grab your copy today.

Dear Life by Rachel Clarke. An exploration in human connection and palliative care.