A Link Across Generations
“What are the fears that you have? What are the goals that you have? What’s more important to you than anything — besides living longer?”
Those were among the difficult questions surgeon and writer Atul Gawande and his mother asked his ailing father, who had been diagnosed with a tumor in his spinal cord.
“He cried. Mom cried. I cried. We talked,” Gawande told PRI’s The World. “Those are hard conversations. Talking to people about death.”
Gawande began exploring the reasons doctors have such a hard time talking to their patients about living with and dying from incurable illnesses when one of his own patients passed away suddenly. He presents the results of his exploration in the book Being Mortal, which examines modern medicine’s shortcomings when it comes to dealing with mortality.
In his conversation with The World, Gawande talked about his father’s desire to live a fully functional and social life until the very end. His father also made his wishes for after his death clear: He wanted his ashes scattered in their hometown in Athens, Ohio, in his village in India and along the Ganges river.
“There was something about the ritual of the same thing that families have been going through for thousands of years and we were doing it,” Gawande said. “And you could almost feel the links of hands across the generations.”