There is nothing more painful than watching a loved one die. Having recently watched my step-mother pass away after a long fight with cancer, the myriad feelings are still fresh in my mind – helplessness as I watched a strong woman eaten alive by a malignant disease; sadness from knowing that someone I loved was forever taken away; guilt that at times I wished for her passing so that the suffering would end. It’s something most people have had to face at one point in their life, and once it’s over, you hope you never have to go through it again.

Sarah Pinborough’s THE LANGUAGE OF DYING -- which tells the story of a father’s slow deterioration while his family tries to come to grips with his inevitable passing – tackles the topic of death with a truth and sensitivity I’ve rarely seen before. The story centers on the narrator – the middle of five children – and her efforts to not only make her father comfortable during his final days, but also bring her dysfunctional family back together again so they can all say their goodbyes. It is through each of the siblings and their personalities that Pinborough effectively tackles all of the different emotions people go through at a time like this – whereas the narrator tries to be strong for her father and take care of him as much as possible, the oldest brother stays away from his father’s bedside because it is too hard to see him as he is. Some siblings do their best to check on the father and talk to him (whether he’s awake or unconscious), while other siblings feel he should be left alone. Some believe the father should have a bunch of medication, others don’t. Promises are made (and broken). Forced smiles hide the tears. Never-before-heard medical jargon tries to explain various symptoms. Cliched platitudes attempt to ease the pain, and fail miserably. These and more weave themselves together to create the titular language of dying.

Mixed throughout the story are memories and experiences from the children’s youth – their abandonment by their mother, various broken marriages, drug and alcohol abuse, etc. – all of which help drive the story forward by further fleshing out the characters and their strained familial relationships. It goes without saying that Pinborough relies heavily on characterization in THE LANGUAGE OF DYING, and the reader is rewarded by her ability to bring the characters to life.

Pinborough has written a moving story that is relevant to anyone who’s gone through a similar situation. THE LANGUAGE OF DYING is hard to read at times because it forces us to analyze how we’ve reacted when going through the grieving process, and dredges up our own past hurts, but it should be commended for doing so. After all, what better compliment is there for an author than to hear a reader has been moved by what they’ve written? As such, I encourage you to read THE LANGUAGE OF DYING and see what feelings it stirs in you.

THE LANGUAGE OF DYING is being released in “mid 2009” by PS Publishing as an $18 unsigned trade hardcover and a $37.50 signed jacketed hardcover.

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