Classics December 17th: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Editor’s note: We are now providing summary reports on the “Classics” presentations above the original program description, which is below.

Mary Beth initiated her session by asking each participant to think and comment on what, for each of us, would constitute a “good death.” Responses varied, with “painless” and “quick” being popular options, along with “surrounded by family.”

The book of the above title, by Katy Butler, explores the stages of aging and death. As she experienced late in her father’s life, steps involve a growing fragility and loss of independence, through decline and disability, failing health (at the end, a 3 to 10-day process), and death itself. Fragility involves continually coping with the expanding “maintenance”—hip replacements, open heart surgery, and other efforts to keep the body functioning. Continued decline reminds us to be productive before its too late. Disability, whether physical or mental, often involves the services of a caregiver, as the loved one can no longer manage on their own. With the later stages of failing health, the primary question becomes “on what terms do you consider life worth living?”

Unfortunately, our culture has mastered the “maintain life at all costs,” and doesn’t offer attractive options when life no longer seems worth living. Nearing the end, palliative care is aimed at controlling symptoms and pain and providing some quality of living, but not preserving life beyond a reasonable point. Often known as “comfort care,” such programs can enhance the quality of a person’s final days without prolonging them unnecessarily.

This presentation led to lively discussions, but I got swept up in it, and failed to take more notes!


Monday December 17, in the Classics in Religion series. This group is open to all and meets Mondays at 11 a.m. to Noon at the Penn Yan Public Library.

This session will be a review and discussion of the book Knocking on Heaven’s Door, by Katy Butler. Presented by Mary Beth Gamba.

“Award winning journalist Katy Butler was living thousands of miles away when her beloved seventy-nine-year-old father suffered a crippling stroke. Katy and her mother joined the more than twenty-eight million Americans who are shepherding loved ones through their final declines. Part memoir, part medical history, and part spiritual guide, Knocking on Heaven’s Door is a map through the labyrinth of a broken medical system. Butler chronicles the rise of Slow Medicine, a movement intent on reclaiming the “good deaths” our ancestors prized.”
(From the cover.)

Mary Beth Gamba has been a Social Worker, an Eldercare Manager, and had a mother she cared for as she aged and died in Mary Beth and Peter’s home. She plays cello in the New Horizons full orchestra and string orchestra in Rochester, NY.

One thought on “Classics December 17th: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

  1. Pingback: The Classics in Religion Series 2018-2019 – Cobblestone Springs

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