At the age of 50, Cory Taylor was diagnosed with stage 4 melanoma. She wrote Dying: a Memoir 10 years later, in an energetic rush of creativity, right before her death, when the melanoma had spread to her brain. This perceptive output, at such a time, is astounding, and as readers we are its lucky recipients.
“Despite the ubiquity of death, it seems strange that there are so few opportunities to discuss dying,” says Taylor as she works to establish a conversation around death. “Death is a taboo subject, absurdly so. It is tidied away in hospitals, out of public view, the secret purview of health professionals who are generally unwilling to talk about what really goes on at the bedsides of a nation.” Taylor strives to change this, in part by taking control of the dialogue around her own death, and by taking control of her death itself. She begins the book by telling us that she has just purchased her own euthanasia drugs. She doesn’t know that she’ll use them, but it comforts her to know that she can dictate her end. She doesn’t try to convince us that dying isn’t hard, or sad, but nor does she shy away from the fact that it is unavoidable. “No, there is nothing good about dying. It is sad beyond belief. But it is part of life, and there is no escaping it. Once you grasp that fact, good things can result.” When addressing the fear that she admits to feeling, she adds, “I haven't died before, so I sometimes get a bad case of beginner’s nerves, but they soon pass.”
Taylor moves away from the topic of death for one section of this slim volume to highlight some memories from her interesting childhood spent in Australia and Fiji. This exploration highlights an understanding of her parents, their relationship to each other, and to her, that perhaps she was recognizing in an end-of-life reflection. But even in looking back at her life experiences, Taylor does not fall prey to sentimentality, nor is she mired with regret. “I don't have a bucket list because it comforts me to remember the things I have done, rather than hanker after the things I haven't done. Whatever they are, I figure they weren't for me, and that gives me a sense of contentment, a sort of ballast as I set out on my very last trip.”
Taylor writes beautifully, and it is sad to think we won’t get more from her, but we are fortunate to have this.
Add this to the ranks of When Breath Becomes Air, Being Mortal, and The Bright Hour, the books we read to try to gain insight on and understanding of the inevitable end we all face. Cory Taylor eloquently bestows both to us.
“And that is what I’m doing now, in this, my final book: I am making a shape for my death, so that I, and others, can see it clearly.”