Title: Hospice Voices: Lessons for living at the end of life
Author: Eric Lindner
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield 2013
Reviewer: Robert Becker, independent lecturer in palliative care
What was it like?
Eric Lindner is a Hospice volunteer in US and this book charts his experiences in this role over the last four years via a series of carefully crafted and sensitively written vignettes. He has no background in health care and approaches his encounters in a modest and forthright manner that comes across strongly in the text. It’s written in a mix of first and third person narrative, which helps keep the story telling alive to the reader, yet gives it the feel of a short novella rather than an informative learning text. As such the reader is given a detailed insight into the lives, loves and tragic losses of these people and their complex family circumstances.
What were the highlights?
I liked the honesty in this book. It has no pretensions and doesn’t try to preach to the reader. It’s not a book you can dip into in a coffee break, however, and that’s a good thing. It demands your attention for at least the time it takes to read and digest one chapter i.e. about 20-30 minutes on average. Perhaps its most important message lies in the simple mantra of dos and don’ts the author was given during his induction to volunteering and which forms a discreet, but central part of the book. Among other things he was told to always – be genuine, respect boundaries, learn to live with silence, to encourage life review and to take care of yourself; sage advice indeed. He was also told not to judge others, break confidentiality, take things personally, not to expect someone to conform to your own values and beliefs and lastly, but no least important, to remember that it’s the little things that mean a lot.
Strengths & weaknesses:
The stories do tend to go off on a tangent at times particularly when the author insists on telling the reader about his own health issues and centring in on other family members rather too much. More judicious editing would have helped and given the text a sharper focus. In this case the maxim “less is more” most definitely applies. Some UK readers may find the American terminology difficult to follow at times, but stick with it as it mostly sets the context well for these sincere accounts. Its unique selling point is that it’s written by a volunteer not a media celebrity, or health care professional, but as with a number of these books it sometimes becomes less about the patient interactions and more about the authors’ journey. This book has a tendency to fall into that trap at times and it detracts from its undoubted strengths.
Who should read it?
Those who work in a hospice setting will find this book of mixed benefit. Much of the content will be familiar, but not revelatory. The same applies to all nurses who have regular contact with the dying. It does a good job, however, of reminding us of our common humanity, which is no bad thing in the current furore surrounding care abuse scandals that seem to dominate the media in the UK. If nothing else it also reminds us that for every high profile expose there are many thousands of warm compassionate daily encounters with the dying that never get noticed or reported.