Book group: One Last Thing

We read a book that explores how we can prepare for, talk about and make our own choices about death.

Content warning: assisted dying and suicide

Wendy Mitchell was diagnosed with vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in 2014, aged 58.

She’s written three books since then, and her third – One Last Thing – encourages conversations about death and end-of-life care

One Last Thing, by Wendy Mitchell

Jane Buckels, who lives with Alzheimer’s disease, says, ‘One Last Thing made me confront what I’ve been putting off doing, but it did so in an informative way that wasn’t judgmental or bossy. 

‘I saw planning for the end as one big thing that had to be done all in one go, when actually one thing leads onto another. The book has indicated a path through the maze. 

‘The overriding thing I’ve taken away from the book is that forward planning has to involve those that you will be relying on to implement your wishes and that you need to perhaps adjust some of your wishes to include loved ones. 

‘I also take away the word “discussion” and will be giving the book to my daughter to read so that she too understands the importance of discussion and is involved in the process.’

Seeing things differently 

Mitchell supports the legalisation of assisted dying but says her book doesn’t try to convince others to agree with her. She argues that people should have choice over how and when they die. 

Jennifer Bute, a former GP living with dementia, was disappointed by how much of the book focused on this. 

‘I had hoped One Last Thing would be far more positive about living one’s remaining life to the full. 

‘Wendy passionately argues the case for assisted dying. We all see things differently and everyone has the right to express opinions, and indeed we need to hear them. 

‘I believe our true value and worth does not depend on the state of our physical bodies or brains or state of mind, and that assisted dying is a slippery slope that is not as clear-cut as this book makes out.’ 

Pete Middleton, who has Alzheimer’s disease, had hoped for more of a practical guide about ‘living with the end in mind’. 

‘There is useful information in this book,’ he says, ‘though I would personally prefer this in the form of a handbook or guide, rather than through stories and anecdotes.’

Compassion and sensitivity 

Keith Oliver, a Society Ambassador with young-onset Alzheimer’s, says, ‘The book made me shed a tear, smile a little and think a lot. This is a book about more than dying – it is about life which, like dementia, has a beginning, a middle and an end. 

‘In the case of life, it is the last stage that is seldom spoken about, and this book serves to generate attention and hopefully add to the discourse. 

‘Wendy tackles end of life with compassion and sensitivity, and much of what she writes resonates with me. Like her, death holds no fear but the process of dying and being robbed of so much prior to death by dementia does scare me. 

‘Occasionally, the words of professionals within the book frustrated me in the same way they did Wendy. 

‘I relate also to Wendy when she writes about cancer and other serious life-threatening conditions and how people are better supported to move to life’s exit. 

‘Everyone with dementia will have a different journey but the terminus is always the same. Wendy articulates this complex issue in her unique, brave and thoughtful way without slipping into a morose abyss. 

‘I recommend the book to people affected by dementia, to health and social care professionals, but also to anyone who finds this subject hard to come to terms with.’ 

Starting conversations 

Anita Goundry has Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. 

‘I’ve been thinking about my death since I was 21,’ she says. ‘I had various types of cancer, three strokes and a heart attack. 

‘This book would be brilliant for those that are frightened of having conversations about death. It’s done in a conversational style and, because of Wendy’s experiences, she knows what she’s talking about. 

‘I am going to pass this book around my family, because they’ll understand so much more about the decisions that I have made. 

‘It’s like a handbook and self-help book all in one. You will come across death, you will think about death. So, let’s talk about death.’ 

One Last Thing, by Wendy Mitchell (Bloomsbury 2023), 240 pages, £16.99 (prices vary), ISBN 9781526658753. Also available as an ebook. 

Your turn

For our next book group, we invite you to read Pru and Me, by Timothy West (Michael Joseph 2023), 352 pages, £22.00 (prices vary), ISBN 9780241629550. Also available as an ebook and audiobook. 

Tell us what you think about this book about Timothy’s life with his wife Prunella Scales, including since she developed Alzheimer’s. Email us by the end of 5 January 2024 or comment below. 

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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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Dementia together magazine is for all Alzheimer’s Society supporters and anyone affected by the condition.
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