Winter Books
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Issue Date:  October 7, 2005

By Mark Hare
ACTA Publications, 143 pages, $9.95
Death on your own terms


In Watching My Friend Die, Mark Hare, a newspaper columnist in Rochester, N.Y., describes the last months of his friend Bob Schwartz, a high school teacher, father, husband and Catholic, who died nearly two years after he was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas.

Mr. Schwartz, an “Everyman,” doesn’t go easily or quietly. As Mr. Hare writes, cancer was for his friend a “community project.” He wanted his friends and family around him at all times. He made plans for a future that had already been denied him by doctors. Even as he grew weaker, yellow with jaundice, he joked about his condition and demanded that his life continue.

Mr. Hare, also a Catholic, relates Mr. Schwartz’ death to the communion of saints, the connection among all believers, living or dead. “To believe in the communion of saints,” Mr. Hare writes, “is to proclaim that no death is private.”

The book is part of ACTA’s American Catholic Experience series, which explores the stories of lay Catholics in the United States. People who are afraid of death might benefit from this book. People who are afraid to be near someone who is dying might benefit from this book. At its best, the simple structure (here is a man who got sick and died, and this is what it was like to be near him) is honest and real and therefore exhausting. Mr. Hare proves that a man’s death, like his life, is his own. It can’t be dictated or rushed by those who will continue living. And that is a lesson that might benefit us all.

Rebecca Beyer is a graduate student in journalism at New York University. This past summer she worked as an intern at NCR.

National Catholic Reporter, October 7, 2005

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