It’s just over three years ago that I sat with my sister in the palliative room at a small local hospital, stroking my Dad’s head and reassuring him as died. The grief I felt then remains as raw and eviscerating now, so when Little Brown’s Emily Moran asked me if I would like a copy of Rachel Clarke’s Dear Life in return for an honest review, I honestly wasn’t sure. I’m so glad I accepted.
Dear Life will be published by Little Brown on 30th January 2020 and is available for pre-order through the links here.
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.
My Review of Dear Life
A doctor’s personal view of life and death.
What a book. I had reservations about reading Dear Life by Rachel Clarke as I thought I might find its subject matter too personal and difficult or the author too introspective, patronising or condescending. I’m not a great lover of memoir writing either. So when I consider the negative approach I had to beginning this read I’m slightly embarrassed by just how far from the truth I was. Dear Life is a wonderful, wonderful book that any person facing death (and yes I do mean ALL of us) should read. It is magnificent and has been an absolute privilege to read.
In a world frequently filled with negativity, Dear Life is an oasis of hope and joy. Rachel Clarke has restored my faith in myself and in humanity, for which I cannot thank her enough. She demystifies death and presents in a beautifully written way, the manner in which we can live life to the full even as our own mortality and that of those we love is a stark, and often close, reality. Her style is honest, straightforward, poetic and completely captivating. I simply could not stop reading even when my vision was blurred by the tears her words brought me to. With sensitivity, knowledge and skill in Dear Life Rachel Clarke has made me glad for all the moments of my life; not just those positive, happy memories, but also the times when I have suffered physical and emotional pain, been stressed or unhappy, because she exemplifies how every single experience is part of a life lived and that, even as we die, we can still do so with dignity and love.
Whilst Rachel Clarke explores her own life and the death of her father, Dear Life isn’t simply a memoir. It references history, geography and literature. There are wolrd events and real people scattered through its pages. I loved the quotations that head up each chapter, and found comfort in them as much as the delight in the mentions of my favourite poet John Donne. There’s a practical Postscript of links and advice where readers can research more about how to prepare for their own future, including their own death. As a result, Dear Life transcends the sum of its parts to be something much much greater and more important.
Having mentioned death so many times when reviewing a book called Dear Life, let me say there is nothing mawkish or sensationalised here, but rather a compassionate love song to humanity, to love and friendship and to living our best lives whatever our circumstances. I think Rachel Clarke is a genius because Dear Life is a superlative book. It moved me, it helped me and it made me glad to be alive. I cannot recommend Dear Life highly enough. It is both life affirming and life changing. Just buy it. Dear Life may be the most important book you ever read.
About Rachel Clarke
Rachel Clarke is a current NHS doctor and former television journalist who cares passionately about standing up for her patients and the NHS. She originally read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University before making current affairs documentaries about subjects as diverse as the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Al Qaeda and the civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
She retrained as a doctor in her late twenties, graduating in 2009. She now works in palliative medicine, believing that helping patients at the end of life experience the best quality life possible is priceless.
Rachel lives in Oxford with her husband and two children.