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Art of Living, Art of Dying

Art of Living, Art of Dying

Spring 2017 a new book by Carlo Leget was published, Art of Living, Art of Dying. Spiritual Care for a Good Death, by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in London/Philadelphia. Care-ethics.org had an interview with the author.

A new book about spiritual care, why did you write it?

For some time I had been thinking that it would be good to publish a book on the art of dying in English. The two Dutch books that I had written, Ruimte om te sterven and Van levenskunst tot stervenskunst, have been reprinted many times and every time when I was giving a lecture abroad people would be very interested to read them.
Last year I gave a lecture in San Diego at the annual conference of the Health Care Chaplaincy Network, and a Publisher came to me offering to make a book with me. This is when I took my chance.

When does a professor find the time to write a book nowadays?

Last summer I spent some time in Germany and I had given myself 4 weeks. I had already thought out what I wanted to write. Every morning I stood up early, searched for a spark of enthusiasm in myself about the subject I wanted to write about, and when I had reached 3000 words, I would stop. That should be enough for that day.

“Expertly grounded in an academic theological and philosophical discourse, Professor Leget guides the reader through a contemporary reading of the medieval Ars moriendi, blending the wisdom of the past with a real-world understanding of the present.” ~ Philip Larkin

Did you succeed in writing down everything in such a short period of time?

No, I didn’t. When I was writing the last chapters my brother-in-law called me from the Netherlands. My eldest sister appeared to have come back from her holiday in a very bad condition. She had been admitted to the hospital immediately and she died a week after her return in the Neterhlands, 50 years old.
I travelled back to the Netherlands and I was lucky to be able to say goodbye to her. It was hardly conceivable what had happened. Suddenly I was painfully cast from theory into practice. There are no words for how bizarre this was. The world stood still. From that moment on also my writing had been interrupted for a while.

Did what happened have any impact on the content of your book?

When I began to write again after a couple of weeks, I was afraid that I would look with new eyes at everything I had written so far, and that it would no longer be in tune with my feelings. This appeared not to be so, luckily. I could still agree with what I had written. At that moment I knew that I would dedicate the book to her.

You have written two books about the art of dying already. Is there for the people who are familiar with your previous work anything new to discover in this English book?

Yes, definitely. The first version of my book Ruimte om te sterven was written almost 15 years ago. Since then my thought has developed further and care ethics has had a great influence on the way I look at the world. But also the many lectures and presentations on the art of dying, and the many contacts with care givers of various disciplines have changed my way of thinking. I have learned to think in a more concrete and practical way. At the same time I remain someone who loves to analyze and think theoretically.

Can you give concrete examples of what is new in this book?

The book is crafted better and the development of thought is done more thoroughly. Also the idea of inner polyphony has been developed further. I call this the ‘polyphonic self’. For this I was inspired by the work of Gettie Kievit-Lamens, who has been chaplain at academic hospice Demeter in De Bilt, The Netherlands, and who wrote a dissertation in which she brings my central metaphor of ‘inner space’ in resonance with the work of Hubert Hermans on the ‘dialogical self’.

But also the work of my PhD-students Eric Olsman and Els van Wijngaarden have put me on this track. Finally, things that have happened in my own biography these past few years have confronted me with the importance of listening to this inner polyphony.

Does this mean that the new book is more complex than the previous ones?

I don’t think so in the end. I have tried to keep the balance between simplicity and complexity by creating space for this complexity on the one hand, but keeping complex issues accessible and concrete on the other. In this way I have summarized the core of the art of dying in five essential questions that every human being could ask him- or herself sooner or later.

“I recommend this book not only for chaplains and clergy, but also for others on the healthcare team, including counsellors, doctors, nurses, allied healthcare workers and other professionals who come into contact with patients in hospitals and hospices.” ~ Christina Puchalski

What adds this book to all that has already been written about spirituality in palliative care?

I think my approach is one of the few that considers the art of dying as a practice that is shaped by the people involved in their interaction, and that in the end it is the art of the one who is dying. Much literature aims to put the severely ill or dying person at the centre, but ends with writing what care givers can or should do. Moreover I have tried to not tell people what is wrong and what is right, aiming to open up a space that enables one to listen what really matters in life.

Finally: how is this book related to the rest of your scientific work?

The book has helped me to retrieve a number of central thoughts, thinking them through and articulating them better. It is part of the theoretical framework of a research project funded by the government that I am going to do in collaboration with Saskia Teunissen, professor in hospice care at Utrecht University. Next to this I have further plans  for the next round of the state funded ZonMW programme Palliantie. But this summer I will take four weeks of vacation.

Carlo Leget

Carlo LegetChair holder, full professor in Ethics of Care and Spiritual Counseling and extraordinary professor Palliative Care at the University of Humanistic Studies.

His academic works focuses on ethics and spirituality in palliative care, and he is involved in many discussions in the Netherlands about end-of-life issues. He wrote, edited or co-edited 20 books and published more than 50 refereed papers and more than 40 contributions to books. He is in the editorial board of a number of international and Dutch journals.

He chairs the national working group on ‘Ethics and spiritual care’ in his country and is first author of the first national consensus based guideline on spiritual care in palliative care (2010). He also co-chairs the EAPC-Taskforce on spiritual care, is a board member of Palliactief, the Dutch Association for Professional Palliative Care. He takes also part in the Global Network on Spirituality and Health.

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