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BooksSpiegeloog 412: HappinessTabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa: A Matter of Death and Life

By May 21, 2021No Comments

Who suffers more, the one who stays, or the one who has to leave? A Matter of Death and Life is a bittersweet collaborative memoir by Irvin Yalom and Marilyn Yalom on their experiences after Marilyn’s diagnosis with multiple myeloma. The reader is to be engulfed in the rich emotional world of these two incredibly accomplished professors and will get to see these brilliant authors in a brand-new light. Even though it is heart-breaking at times, it is impossible not to be touched, and even warmed, by their love of more than seventy years.

A significant portion of the book covers the couple’s thought processes, emotions, and experiences regarding an approaching death. For Marilyn, there is a fight with the side-effects of the drugs and her consideration of a physician-assisted suicide, as she seeks to ‘die at the right time’ like Nietzsche prescribes. She looks back on her life with ‘few regrets’. It is a life that has touched the lives of many; as a renowned gender historian and a feminist author, as a mother of four and grandmother of eight, and a much-loved friend to many. She provides a delightful guide to the reader on how to leave this world gracefully.

She no longer exists… Will I ever really grasp this? Will I ever come to terms with her death? And of my death to come?’

On the other hand, with Irvin, the reader will be approaching Marilyn’s death together. When writing, he is not only her life-partner, but also one of the most prominent psychiatrists of the century who have worked on death, death anxiety, and meaning of life for decades. You will see his human struggles in accepting Marilyn’s decisions to end, what he considers, ‘the gift of consciousness’. Throughout the book, he tries to analyse his own thought process, and the reader has much to gain from his personal take on topics he has dealt with for decades. The book continues after Marilyn’s passing, and the reader is left with Irvin’s difficult quest to learn to live all over again.

Among the many themes alongside death, the book has a heavy emphasis on living ‘meaningfully till the very end’. You will see this lovely couple trying to deal with the typical challenges of old age, as well as trying to enjoy the merits of it with their children, grandchildren, and many admirers. Similarly, memories are an integral part of the book, with the recalls of the past, as well as a meta-cognitive and philosophical approach on remembering. Any reader will have a lot to gain from these accounts regarding evaluating one’s life and finding meaning in the ‘fragility of mortality’.

As a psychology student who loves Yalom’s work on existential psychotherapy, the much more personal take on these topics allowed me to see a more holistic picture of the author’s work, and made me admire him even more. Hence, anyone who has been familiar with Yalom’s work is encouraged to read this unique work of his. As for Marilyn Yalom, whom I have not heard of until this book, I am glad to have learned about such a wonderful individual. After seeing her elegance, intelligence, and kindness, I am very eager to read her work. Either a History of the Wife (2001), or a History of the Breast (1997) looks like a good start.

Overall, A Matter of Death and Life is an easy read with a difficult digest. It will present you an account on how to leave this earth, and how to live beyond death.

Available at your local book store or online, starting from €19,89. A Dutch translation is also available: Een kwestie van dood en leven, starting from €22,99.

Who suffers more, the one who stays, or the one who has to leave? A Matter of Death and Life is a bittersweet collaborative memoir by Irvin Yalom and Marilyn Yalom on their experiences after Marilyn’s diagnosis with multiple myeloma. The reader is to be engulfed in the rich emotional world of these two incredibly accomplished professors and will get to see these brilliant authors in a brand-new light. Even though it is heart-breaking at times, it is impossible not to be touched, and even warmed, by their love of more than seventy years.

A significant portion of the book covers the couple’s thought processes, emotions, and experiences regarding an approaching death. For Marilyn, there is a fight with the side-effects of the drugs and her consideration of a physician-assisted suicide, as she seeks to ‘die at the right time’ like Nietzsche prescribes. She looks back on her life with ‘few regrets’. It is a life that has touched the lives of many; as a renowned gender historian and a feminist author, as a mother of four and grandmother of eight, and a much-loved friend to many. She provides a delightful guide to the reader on how to leave this world gracefully.

She no longer exists… Will I ever really grasp this? Will I ever come to terms with her death? And of my death to come?’

On the other hand, with Irvin, the reader will be approaching Marilyn’s death together. When writing, he is not only her life-partner, but also one of the most prominent psychiatrists of the century who have worked on death, death anxiety, and meaning of life for decades. You will see his human struggles in accepting Marilyn’s decisions to end, what he considers, ‘the gift of consciousness’. Throughout the book, he tries to analyse his own thought process, and the reader has much to gain from his personal take on topics he has dealt with for decades. The book continues after Marilyn’s passing, and the reader is left with Irvin’s difficult quest to learn to live all over again. 

Among the many themes alongside death, the book has a heavy emphasis on living ‘meaningfully till the very end’. You will see this lovely couple trying to deal with the typical challenges of old age, as well as trying to enjoy the merits of it with their children, grandchildren, and many admirers. Similarly, memories are an integral part of the book, with the recalls of the past, as well as a meta-cognitive and philosophical approach on remembering. Any reader will have a lot to gain from these accounts regarding evaluating one’s life and finding meaning in the ‘fragility of mortality’.

As a psychology student who loves Yalom’s work on existential psychotherapy, the much more personal take on these topics allowed me to see a more holistic picture of the author’s work, and made me admire him even more. Hence, anyone who has been familiar with Yalom’s work is encouraged to read this unique work of his. As for Marilyn Yalom, whom I have not heard of until this book, I am glad to have learned about such a wonderful individual. After seeing her elegance, intelligence, and kindness, I am very eager to read her work. Either a History of the Wife (2001), or a History of the Breast (1997) looks like a good start.

Overall, A Matter of Death and Life is an easy read with a difficult digest. It will present you an account on how to leave this earth, and how to live beyond death.

Available at your local book store or online, starting from €19,89. A Dutch translation is also available: Een kwestie van dood en leven, starting from €22,99.

Arda Ergin

Author Arda Ergin

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