Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul

by Stephen Jenkinson

Paperback, 2015


North Atlantic Books (2015), 416 pages


"Die Wise does not offer seven steps for coping with death. It does not suggest ways to make dying easier. It pours no honey to make the medicine go down. Instead, with lyrical prose, deep wisdom, and stories from his two decades of working with dying people and their families, Stephen Jenkinson places death at the center of the page and asks us to behold it in all its painful beauty. Die Wise teaches the skills of dying, skills that have to be learned in the course of living deeply and well. Die Wise is for those who will fail to live forever. Dying well, Jenkinson writes, is a right and responsibility of everyone. It is a moral, political, and spiritual obligation each person owes their ancestors and their heirs. It is not a lifestyle option. It is a birthright and a debt. Die Wise dreams such a dream, and plots such an uprising. How we die, how we care for dying people, and how we carry our dead: this work makes our village life, or breaks it. In the end, Jenkinson's message is not one of despair--he believes learning to love death is in fact one of the most direct ways to love life"-- "A potentially life-changing book for anyone wanting to experience grief and death in a more meaningful way. Grounded in the author's experiences with hundreds of dying people and their families, the book advocates a bold engagement with a part of the human experience that is often more endured than lived"--… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member willszal
Die Wise is a book about the skill of dying. The author, Stephen Jenkinson, is an older Canadian with some experience in the palliative [or “cloaking”] care industry. A while back he bought a farm and started something called the Orphan Wisdom School, teaching people how to grieve. He published
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this book in 2015.

Jenkinson starts out by getting into the failure of Western Culture surrounding the dying process. We remove the dying from our daily lives, and obscure their dying process, even from those who are dying. Not only is this extremely expensive, but rather than extending someone’s “life” in the rewarding sense of the term, we prolong their deaths. People that know what’s going on, such as doctors, widely refrain from many of the commonly used “life-extension” techniques [such as chino therapy with terminal cancer].

In many people’s dying process, they start looking for meaning. Jenkison assures us that if this is where you are, you’re too late. Meaning is something created in the prime of our lives, and cannot be found simply by dying.

There’s also a bizarre trend towards thinking of death as unexpected, and life as a right. It’s important to grieve when children die, but it’s not an “injustice” or “unfair.”

Jenkinson proposes that a lot of our problems stem from a lack of skill in grieving. Surprisingly, the antidote to our cultural and personal depression is the genuine expression of sadness.

Dying reminds us that we are not, at any point, in control of our lives.

As Westerners, we are a homeless culture. One meaning of the word homeless is that we don’t have the bodies of our ancestors buried under our feet. Jenkinson says we even “enshrine...[our] lostness as a kind of freedom.” One way you can identify when such a shift happens is when the gods of a people no longer inhabit the land in which their respective people live, but instead become removed to some other plane of reality. At the same time, Jenkinson suggests we shouldn’t be “making metaphors of ordinary things.” All of this is tied up in a process of losing our dead. The dead and the gods happen to have a lot in common, and they way we treat one constituency can inform us about our feelings towards the other.

Jenkinson points out that we never say, “you have your whole death ahead of you.” But in a way, reminding ourselves of this early in life is hearty food for the creation of a meaningful life. The more we learn of the wonder of death, the better we live.
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