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Podcast: Dr. Lydia Dugdale on the Lost Art of Dying

Lydia Dugdale author of The Lost Art of Dying

Julia Hembree Smith

Anticipating our mortality via the lost Medieval practice of ars moriendi.

Who do you want at your deathbed? We do not like to think about such things, yet we will all die, and wrestling with such finitude can actually make our lives richer. Rabbi Rami’s guest this week is Lydia Dugdale MD, an associate professor of medicine and director of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at Columbia University. She is an internal medicine primary care doctor and a medical ethicist.

Dr. Dugdale is a frequent contributor to Spirituality & Health, and her new book, The Lost Art of Dying, explores hopeful perspectives on death and dying—and living with intention—via the lost medieval practice of ars moriendi.

Ars moriendi were originally two texts from the medieval era and when taken in the context of the Bubonic Plague, death was literally all around. The idea is you do not know when death will come upon you, so you need to always be ready and prepare for a good death. It sounds morbid, but doing the work can make life more meaningful. Take, for example, reconciling with family before it is too late.

Dugdale finished her book prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and while it is thankfully not the Plague, death is again front and center in our culture.

Dr. Dugdale and Rabbi Rami discuss, for example, the important difference between dying alone and lonely dying. Dying alone might be a person who has always been very independent sending their loved ones home from a bedside vigil and then passing away a few minutes after they leave. Lonely dying is different. At the height of the pandemic, Dugdale reports working in the hospital and seeing, due to the shortage of PPE that would have allowed closer human contact, patients dying in this truly lonely way. “To have patients die and have their last contact be through an iPad, it was a tragedy not only for the patients and for their families, but also for the doctors and nurses caring for them.”

So what happens when we die? For more on that, you will have to listen to the podcast.

You might also enjoy Dr. Dugdale writing about “Dying Without Religion,” in S&H.

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