The Hourglass: Life as an Aging Mortal by Pamela Cuming is an insightful book about a topic no human being can escape. Cuming’s book addresses how to live with the knowledge that one will eventually die. But it isn’t only about a person’s impending doom. She discusses at length how to view the aging process and how to accept it as part of life.
The topics in this book aren’t easy to confront, no matter what stage of life the reader is in. Almost every person on the planet has lost a person they loved or has encountered insurmountable grief when someone they know is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness. Yet many people go to great lengths to avoid any discussion of death, illness, or aging. Most people can’t handle thinking about it, let alone talking about it, even though it happens to every single person on the planet sooner or later.
Cuming’s approach to the subject matter makes it easier for the reader to digest the information. She shares her personal experiences and stories from her friends and acquaintances. This style makes it easier to see the true subject, the human being, and not just the outcome: death.
Even though the book deals with aging and death, the author remains positive and supportive. There are emotional passages, as it would be impossible to share the details about the passing of a loved one without evoking sadness, but Cuming’s considerate and philosophical method gently guides the reader to see things differently. She never loses sight that no matter what, death is an unknown and no matter how prepared, most will be afraid. And it’s perfectly acceptable and normal to be scared. The reading experience, however, is non-threatening and life-affirming.
Her breakdown of personality types helps explain how individuals deal with aging, illness, doctor’s visits, and death. The well-thought out types allow the reader to think about how to approach situations and how to deal with others who react differently.
One of the greatest moments in the book is when Cuming admits her reaction to her own mother’s death didn’t take into account how others were feeling. Her honesty really helps the reader to see that they aren’t alone; not everyone always acts appropriately. This doesn’t make anyone a bad person it just makes them human. Coming to understand the different traits is helpful and illuminating.
Cuming also peppers the book with thought-provoking quotes and facts, such as:
In 2010, 684,768 surgical and nonsurgical cosmetic procedures (e.g. botox injections) were done on people over the age of sixty-five.
One minor complaint is sometimes the book repeats information when circling back to discuss a person’s story that has already been covered.
The Hourglass is well-researched and approaches the subject matter with the dignity it deserves. It would behoove all people to read this, because no matter what, every individual will have to face aging and dying at some point. Hopefully after reading The Hourglass, the reader will feel comfortable discussing the topic with their loved ones, and the book goes a long way towards ensuring that will be the case.
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