Author to speak about humane death and dying

09/05/2019

Just as the sun sets and the seasons change, everyone dies. But not everyone dies in a peaceful, empowered and humane way, writes Katy Butler, the author of “The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life.” Her latest book gives readers a framework on how to have their death be a sacred rite of passage, not a medical event. “It is my deep hope that you will be peaceful and at ease at the moment of your death,” she writes. “That you have what you need—emotionally, medically, spiritually, and practically—to live fully until your last breath.” On Saturday, Ms. Butler will speak at the Point Reyes Community Presbyterian Church about the problems and solutions facing people in their later years. Ms. Butler is part of a growing movement among citizens and health care professionals weary of intensive medical procedures in the name of extending life as long as possible. Her first book, “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” is both a personal memoir and a critique of the country’s broken medical system. She wrote it after her father suffered a stroke, and she went from being a career-oriented science journalist to being heavily invested in her family’s well-being. As she did her best to be there for her parents, she set aside past conflicts—and learned about the country’s profit-driven worship of medical technology. “Thoughtfulness and communication are underpaid for, and technology and doing things to people are overpaid for,” she said. After highlighting the problems in her first book, she sought to offer solutions in her next. Although “The Art of Dying Well” critiques the medical system, it reads more as a map for how individuals can navigate that seemingly broken world. Through seven chapters, the author progressively addresses the different stages approaching death, from slowing down to actively dying, using real-life stories. She offers physical advice (exercise vigorously for 30 minutes every day), practical advice (obtain a doctor-signed note saying you don’t want treatment that causes any pain or distress), and philosophical advice (love, thank and forgive). “I want to empower people to know what a good decline and what a good end of life looks like,” she said. Over the past nine years, Ms. Butler has held hundreds of speaking events to both community groups and medical professionals. She’s especially excited to return to the Mesa Refuge—where she completed significant work on both books—for a reception before the reading. At the church, she will share her personal experience, other people’s success stories and her dementia directive—the letter she wrote in case she can’t make her own medical decisions. She also hopes to address the problems and advantages of aging in West Marin. On the one hand, there is the difficulty of receiving in-home services, but on the other, a strong sense of community and an ethos of mutual obligation exists. “You can bear almost anything in community,” she said. The event will end with a ritual created by cancer doctors for washing and anointing the body after death. The 5 p.m. reception at the Mesa Refuge followed by the book reading at the church includes a copy of “The Art of Dying,” wine and refreshments for $65; separate tickets for the 7 p.m. reading only are $25, and can be purchased at mesarefuge.org/events/katy-butler.