An old man learns how to die from a poet facing death
For the entire six months that Mark Dowie became friends with Judith Tannenbaum, they both knew she was going to die. In fact, for most of that time they knew the exact hour she would go: sometime between 11:00 AM and noon, December 5, 2019, which she did.
Judith was a poet, writer, activist, and artist who worked for decades teaching and collaborating with imprisoned lifers. Beloved by her community, Judith told almost no one when she was diagnosed with an incurable disease that would cause her immeasurable pain. Instead she chose to end life on her own terms.
When they met, Mark Dowie had already been working for years to advocate for physician assistance in dying for terminally ill people in his home state of California. He helped many friends along this path, but it wasn't until he was introduced to Judith through a mutual friend that he came to a profound new understanding of death. Mark and Judith created a two-person "death café," a group devoted to discussions of death.
They talked about many things during Judith's final months, but the rapidly approaching moment of her death came to inform and shape their entire conversation. Death was, as she said, “the undercurrent and the overstory of our relationship.” Judith Letting Go supports the right to plan one’s death, but it is ultimately about the lost human art of releasing everything that matters to the living in preparation for the inevitable.
Mark Dowie is the former publisher and editor of Mother Jones magazine, the founder of Talking Point Radio, and previous editor-at-large of InterNation, a feature syndicate based in Paris. He recently retired from the U.C. Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism where he taught environmental reporting and foreign correspondence. Dowie’s works have won nineteen journalism awards, including four National Magazine Awards, a George Polk Award, a William Allen White Gold Medal, and a Media Alliance’s Meritorious Award for Lifetime Achievement. He was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters by John F. Kennedy University. Dowie is the author of seven previous books.
For decades I’ve admired Mark Dowie’s fearlessness as an investigative reporter. But it’s a different kind of bravery he shows in this book: the courage to take on a subject that most of us tiptoe around—and to do so in a way that is compassionate, sensitive, and deeply moving.
~Adam Hochschild, author of American Midnight: The Great War, a Violent Peace, and Democracy’s Forgotten Crisis and other books
Dying well is one of life’s greatest challenges. In this short but poignant memoir Mark Dowie finds the method where he least expected it to be, and shares it with the world.
~Robert Reich, former US Secretary of Labor; Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley
By the end of this book, readers will have a repository of questions and ideas with which to open a Death Café of their own, or to approach the subject with some aplomb instead of fear.
~Doris Ober, Point Reyes Light