Updated: Feb 25
Dying well requires living well. Sounds logical enough, but how often do we think about the quality of our dying? Modern people tend to resist the thought of death by focusing on ways to extend life.
Christians are not immune. “By focusing on fixes, we ignore finitude,” writes Lydia Dugdale, drawing on her own experience of many deaths as a physician. “It seems curious that the people who most fervently believe in divine healing also cling most doggedly to the technology of mortals.” This was not always the case. After the plagues of the mid-fourteenth century, the church sought to instruct Christians in how to die well. This rich tradition of art and literature called the ars moriendi — the art of dying — didn’t stop to ask whether death was good or bad. It simply acknowledged death as a fact and asserted that it is impossible to die well while ignoring mortality. As Dugdale explains, "The original ars moriendi offered a consolation for each of the five temptations faced by the dying: faith for the faithless; hope for the despairing; patience for the impatient; humility for the proud; and a relinquishing of earthly goods for the covetous." The Lost Art of Dying is Dugdale’s endeavour to revive the ars moriendi for the twenty-first century. Rooted in history and personal experience, the book challenges common assumptions about death and dying with tenderness while gently pointing readers toward Christian hope. A wise and uplifting reading choice in a time of plague.