An older woman presents her thoughts, experience and analysis of the process of aging.
Pamela Cuming had to face her own mortality when, shortly after the deaths of her mother, her aunt Jill, and her close friend Katherine, her doctor told her that her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) had put her at risk of sudden death – as he phrased it, “You could drop dead at any moment.” She began, then, to think about and analyze her views of death and dying, and of living in an aging body, and this book is the result. She includes discussion of primary approaches to dying (categorizing people as Celebrants, Warriors, Castaways, Stargazers and Sages), as well as conversations with others (especially her husband, David) and discussion of her own experience with terminal illness and death.
THE HOURGLASS is heavily based on Cuming’s own experiences and her own conversations with family and loved ones – as such, it is a very personal and intimate look at aging and illness as seen from within an older human body struggling with chronic illness. Her courage and determination to understand, combined with her thoughtful analysis of her situation and others’, make this a useful resource for those who have anxiety about aging and death, as well as those who have simply never considered the problem before. But while the personal tone helps to humanize the issue, her reliance on her own experience restricts the usefulness of the book somewhat, since her advice to live independently and hire help when needed, for example, may very well be unavailable to those more handicapped or less wealthy than she. Additionally, her discussions with her husband about aging are sometimes colored by his rather unappealingly condescending tone, as when he scolds her for being “timid and anxious” because she can no longer “get up early every morning and do those Jane Fonda tapes” with her COPD diagnosis.
THE HOURGLASS is a book that manages to combine rational, mindful analysis with an emotionally vivid, truly human perspective on old age, illness and death.