4 out of 4 stars
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Before reading this book, I pondered over the cover. It features the arm of someone holding a door ajar. Was the arm opening or closing the door? Since the title is Honest Endings, it could symbolize the door to this life is ending, so the door is closing. However, if the author's belief is that there is life after death, it could mean a door opening to a new existence. Katherine Cullen's short book gives an honest look at the ways people deal with death. After reading this book, I believe the author has covered all aspects of both the coming and going at the end of life.
Cullen states that she learns best from hearing others speak of their experiences, and she wanted to write about her career as a hospice social worker with the goal of helping others deal with death. There are five chapters and only 49 pages, but her message is strong. In one way, this is a coming-of-age story because Cullen's three years working for hospice changed her life.
The prologue describes the author's extensive career in social work and explains how she ended up working for hospice in her fifties. In order to deal with death on a daily basis, and not burden her husband with the details, she kept a journal. The stories in her book come from those journals.
My favorite part of the book is the clever way that Cullen's chapter titles have double meanings. "Living with Death" is the first chapter. Although it does have examples of how families deal with the knowledge that one of their members is dying, the chapter is also about how the author had to learn how to cope with exposure to death on a daily basis.
"All the Lonely People" is the saddest chapter. There are stories of patients who died the same way they lived - alone. There are also stories of how family members had to deal with being alone after their loved ones died. However, this title also has a double meaning because it is not only about the dying person, but it is also about how Cullen and other hospice workers were placed in a situation with no training on how to deal with their own grief. Therefore, they became the lonely people. The haunting song by the Beatles is an appropriate title for this section of the book.
"Final Exit", of course, deals with how Cullen's patients left this world, but it also describes her exit as a hospice social worker. Her term, compassion fatigue, explains why she was forced to quit even though she was needed.
Although there are some references to religion and religious practices throughout the book, the last chapter dwells more specifically on the author's revelation and conversion. Readers who do not enjoy hearing these types of reflections might want to skip this chapter. The book has been professionally edited, and there is nothing I did not like. Because there is no profanity or erotic content, I recommend it to all readers. It gave me a better understanding of the role of hospice workers.
I am happy to give Honest Endings four out of four stars. Katherine Cullen has indeed given an honest view of her hospice experience. The book made me remember having to call in hospice when my mother died, and I wished that I had read this book before that happened.
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