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In the Midst of Life

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  2,302 ratings  ·  266 reviews
Jennifer Worth documents her experiences as a nurse and ward sister, treating patients who were nearing the end of their lives. Interspersed with these stories from Jennifer's post-midwife career are the histories of her patients, from the family divided by a decision nobody could bear to make, to the mother who comes to her son's adopted country and joins his family witho ...more
Hardcover, 427 pages
Published September 1st 2010 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
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^ We are all mortal, and will die ... how and when that will be we do not normally know. 24 is likely to be a very good age at which to read this book; …moreWe are all mortal, and will die ... how and when that will be we do not normally know. 24 is likely to be a very good age at which to read this book; but I guess it all comes down to life experience and maturity.

Right now I'm a fully fit platelet (blood) donor. But I'll die sometime. Will I die through disease, advanced age, a road traffic accident, murder ...? How long will it take me to die? Will I die quickly (as I hope), or will my death be unnecessarily prolonged, possibly very painfully?

After I first read "In The Midst Of Life" I lent my copy to a close & very much older (in years) friend [A] ... who hasn’t yet returned my book to me! A few months later a younger mutual close friend of ours [B] died after a very short and unexpected illness. “In the Midst of Life” helped [A] and myself through that dark time.

Natural death should not be feared. We need to give it some thought, whilst remembering that as long as we live we should actively seek, where we can, to bring happiness.

Support the Hospice movement. Death will, in time, claim us all. We just don’t (normally) know when or how. By thinking ahead, understanding what medical science may inflict on us, and registering our wishes in the potential events of X,Y, and Z happening, we create opportunities that may (not will) allow us to strongly influence the quality and dignity of our own death.

Quality and dignity can help not only us to die less painfully, but also to relieve the dreadful and often long-running inner pains of grief for those who mourn us.

So YES, please do seriously consider borrowing a copy of Jennifer Worth’s “In the Midst of Life”” through your local public library & if after reading it you find it helpful, then buy a copy; not to morbidly dwell upon, but, when needed, to remind, to discuss with real-life friends, to be aware, to hope, to trust.

Meanwhile, be happy, use and apply every ounce of intelligence you have, and live life to the full; without taking the idiotic risks we all did as teenagers.

p.s. Sorry for not seeing your Q earlier. GR didn't flag me & I've only looked back just now that the current latest BBC series "inspired by" Call The Midwife has ended transmission (8 Mar 2015).(less)

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 ·  2,302 ratings  ·  266 reviews

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Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it



That is the essential message of this book, that and raising awareness of the discussion our society needs to have about our current obsession with prolonging life at all costs.

The author was a nurse for many years, and the book contains some gruesome descriptions of old people whose lives have been prolonged through medical intervention - people who have spe
May 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I'm reading two Jennifer Worth books right now.

This book, unlike the other one is brilliantly written. Worth was clever with words. Simple ones, no witty turns of phrase or unique synonyms, but unusually perceptive writing of a very ordinary kind. In other words, very easy reading but not lacking depth.

However, it's awfully depressing. It's all about people who have decided to die and medical science won't let them. People who do die and not necessarily peacefully. Hospices, drugs and more peop
Helen Christmas
May 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What an eye-opener!!! It is more than simply a collection of stories about people dying, but it raises much debate on our attitudes towards death - that as a society we have come to reject the idea that death is a natural order of life. There are so many cases of people being kept alive, who under normal circumstances would 'slip away peacefully'. There are some pretty harrowing cases too - of people literally being pulled back from the brink of death who then go on to suffer a slow and painful ...more
My, oh my, what a beautiful book. 2015 has been a wonderful year reading-wise, since I’ve had the joy of reading all of Jennifer Worth’s books (well, most of them anyway – other than one on eczema and food allergies). This was yet another fantastic book by her and unfortunately her final one. It was about death and dying and very thought-provoking. I just realized that I’ve been reading quite a few books on death as well, not that I mind at all. Most people don’t like to talk about death, yet we ...more
Jul 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, memoir, medical
Memories of a nurse who worked with dying patients. Also a brief, but thoughtful history of the hospice movement. A small bio on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote 'On Death and Dying' which was one of the most influential books of my youth. I must revisit it!

Jennifer Worth is the author of the beloved 'Call the Midwife" trilogy and this book is just as fascinating. I have not had a literal cry while reading a book in many years. The beautiful little story on page 80 did me in.

This is by far the mo
Feb 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All, but especially medical and hospital staff, for whom it should be compulsory!
“In The Midst Of Life” is every bit as thought-provoking as Worth’s three “Call The Midwife” books. On the whole I thought it darker and more chilling because though we almost invariably welcome birth, our present day society still largely manages to maintain a taboo on discussing death and exploring the issues that we may anticipate surrounding our own death. Might this be in part due to society’s loss of the reassurance and rituals instilled by a well-rooted and informed religious faith; and/o ...more
Mar 31, 2012 rated it liked it
Not a novel, more a series of essays on dying. Some are recollections, some more Jennifer's thoughts on the process of dying. Her main point is that in the 'good old days' you were allowed to die quietly at home in bed, death was understood to be what happened at the end of life & professionals had more wriggle room to think about the quality of life of those who were near death & take that into account in their treatment. She contrasts this with current practice which is more about avoiding bei ...more
2.5 stars

This wasn't as interesting as Worth's earlier books, I was quite bored for the most part. There were only a few sections that I found truly engrossing.

-What's what: Jenny's memoirs as a nurse in the fifties/sixties. Focused mainly around her observations on patients, family, illness, and death.

-The writing was a bit too preachy and religious at times.

-There were a few too many chapters filled with uninteresting info dumps, it felt like I was reading a textbook rather than a memoir.

Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
I cried my eyes out while reading this book! It discusses one of the most important issues that we will all face - death. How do you want to die? Do we have a choice? What is the role of modern medicine? Have societal views of death and people who dying changed because of modern medicine? While taking me through various case studies, the book challenged my views of 'dying with dignity', euthanasia, resuscitation...It asks many provocative questions. For example, is it ethical to save a life of a ...more
Jackie Collins
Jun 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is a thought provoking and heart rending look at how we deal with death and dying in England. We are so afraid of death (which many spiritual seekers see as a gateway into the next 'chapter' of our eternal existence)that we hold on to so-called life beyond any quality or self-determination.

Jennifer Worth has exposed our cultural spiritual poverty and how we seek to avoid the inevitable via legislation and technology.

I am totally opposed to euthanasia in any form but there has to be c
I had two reasons for choosing to read a book about death so close to Christmas and the start of a new year. The first is because my family has been hit hard in the past year and a half by death. Last October we lost my grandmother, the following month my mother passed away, both were sudden and rather unexpected deaths, and then this past October my grandfather died two months after suffering a serious stroke. So it hasn't been an easy year and I had hopes I might get some comfort by reading th ...more
Carol Bakker
Jun 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
I'm getting closer to knowing my mind about an Advanced Directive. Not often does a book change my mind, but this one did. End of life issues aren't the most popular dinner party topic, but I'd love to talk this through with more friends. We began such a discussion recently. I said, with a bit of tease in my voice, "Curt (my husband) doesn't want *any* measures taken at *any* time." A wit looked at Curt replied, "Oh, so if you are choking on a cherry pit, we'll not take any measures."

A few days
Jul 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Jennifer Worth, of Call the Midwife fame, moves from her nursing experiences at the beginning of life to working with dying patients. Through the very poignant personal stories, she examines what makes for a good death and what impedes it, while adding some wonderfully luminous insights of her own. Clearly on a mission, she constantly asks how valid is medical intervention, especially with patients who are already terminal. This takes on a much more personal turn at the end of the book as she di ...more
Judith Johnson
Oct 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A wonderful, beautifully written , and in my opinion, life-enhancing book on the subject of how we treat the dying, and attitudes towards death, by the author of the Call the Midwife books. Jennifer Worth herself died of cancer in the year following publication of this book, and as the Guardian obituary said:

'She met her last illness with courage. Jennifer was determined to put into practice the ideas that she wrote about in her last book, In the Midst of Life (2010) – namely, the absolute dign
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2017
A well written and thoughtful book about a subject that is still a taboo in our society - death and dying. Makes the very valid and true point that so much of medicine these days is defensive medicine - i.e. Treatment given not because it's in the best interest of the patient but so that they don't get sued later down the track for not having done everything possible to keep someone alive, even if that means the patient dying in pain in hospital rather than in peace at home, or living in pain an ...more
Oct 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book, it’s made me look at life and death in a different way - definitely
well worth a read
Jeri Massi
Jul 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
A year of illness, a near-miss with cancer, and major surgery prompted me to question what I believed about death, dying, and the after-life. I had noticed references to this book by Jennifer Worth, and I was already impressed with her compassion, faith, and sensible approach to suffering.

At this point, the book is out of print, but I was able to obtain a copy from a used book site.

Worth's lesser known book is not as evenly written as her nursing memoirs. Some passages soar and others drag. Sh
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, 2016
After Jenny Lee left district nursing/midwifery, she worked in cancer hospitals with a lot of end of life patients. Here she discusses the dark side of medical gains: slow, agonized death by medical procedure, rather than quick, natural deaths. She doesn't slag off these medical gains, either--she talks about resuscitations that gave people their lives back, she talks about her own, she talks about how it worked so well on her 102 year old neighbor despite the odds. But more often, there are the ...more
Like all of Worth's memoirs, a series of loosely connected stories. Unlike the others, this one is meant to have A Message. Unfortunately, Worth wasn't quite sure what that message was meant to be. That death is sacred, and we should never prolong life unnecessarily? Noooo-- she had a couple stories (notably Leah's) that made it clear that determining when medical intervention will be helpful and when not is hard to know in advance, even for a medical professional.

That everyone should have the
Aug 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
I had a hard time coming to terms with the author’s seemingly contradictory opinions on passing away in peace and assisted suicide or euthanasia. She was very against assisted death because she felt it was full of moral implications not to mention opening many new pathways for abuse of those unable to speak for themselves, yet she supported people passing in “peace” at the end of life. She had many stories of people who had reached the end by being very old, very sick, or both, and doctors tryin ...more
CarrieAnn Gillis
Jan 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
What an incredible book. I absolutely love everything I have read by Jennifer Worth thus far, and this was no exception. Her writing style is so captivating, and she has the gift of storytelling: her stories come alive and you feel as though you are right there watching it all unfold. In this book, Worth talks about her experience with nursing those near the end of their lives, a striking contrast from midwifery which she had done for several years prior. She handles the topic of death with such ...more
Jun 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
In the same way that Caitlin Doughty's "Smoke Gets in your Eyes" changed my thinking about corpses & funerals, Jennifer Worth's "In the Midst of Life" has changed my thinking about end-of-life medical treatment. "Nurse Jenny" makes a compelling argument for allowing old-age to take its course and not prolonging medical treatment for terminal illness or for end-of-life conditions, the treatment of which would only prolong an elderly person's suffering if treated or if resuscitation is attempted. ...more
Nov 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. A messy collection of tales and anecdotes about old people dying badly possibly due to untimely, ambitious medical intervention. The aim is to make us rethink care of the elderly and our desires to prolong life. It raises some interesting discussion points but for me her arguments were delivered with a sledgehammer-like insistence, and no balance. Worse than this was the fact that she had somehow lost her “voice” - that quiet, calm, amusing inner narrative of her other books is re ...more
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
A sometimes depressing and dark look at what will inevitably find us all: death. As a ward nurse Jenny Lee was a witness to many deaths and here she tells us about the ways in which civil society dreads, denies and forestalls death in many different ways. This was her final book in the 'Call the Midwife' series and sadly, she herself died not long after publication of this last book. A fine, intuitive and highly empathetic writer who unfortunately received most of the well deserving accolades fo ...more
Nov 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
What a wise and poignant book. Worth applies her experience to a variety of cases involving illness and death. Western society has so medicalized death that it becomes something unnatural and fearful. Instead, as Worth puts forth, we should honor those approaching death with peace, comfort, and human contact.

Having been present at 4 deaths of very close family members over the past 11 years, I can attest to the wisdom in this.

I was touched by many of the stories she told and challenged to think
Jul 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is amazing, the author uses her experience as a nurse as well as her own research and other clinical studies and talks openly and frankly about how we view death. After reading my book it has certainly opened my eyes and changed some of my thinking, about what the difference is between having life and actually living. It is beautifully written and if definitely one of the books I would encourage other to read. just stunning.
Nov 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was expecting a novel and instead got a collection of essays on dying, ethics and maintaining physical life when the quality of life has totally disappeared. A very moving book but one that people need to read, and then have lots of frank discussions with their nearest and dearest about how they wish to leave this life. Excellent book.
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
very challenging read, thought provoking book
Jul 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
Very well written but not sure I want to read a book about people dying.

Call the midwife is a lot better more highs and lows
Sep 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
A well researched book about the issues of death and dying in Britian along with individuals personal stories. Makes you stop and think and will change how I wrote my personal directives!
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Worth, born Jennifer Lee while her parents were on holiday in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, was raised in Amersham, Buckinghamshire. After leaving school at the age of 14, she learned shorthand and typing and became the secretary to the head of Dr Challoner's Grammar School. She then trained as a nurse at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading, and moved to London to receive training to become a midwife.


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