"The Good Death" is the title of Ignatieff's final chapter, focusing on the hospice pioneer Cicely Saunders. Ignatieff argues that in her creation of hospice care, Saunders "helped create a new secular practice of consolation, crafted from nursing, psychology, pain management, and therapy." One might also had chaplaincy.
Her key insight was "What the dying needed was to talk about their lives, to make sense of them, to forgive themselves and others, to reconcile themselves to the ending of it all."
In the Epilogue he writes about dealing with his own parent's deaths. This was when he first learned consolation. And what he learned is that it is "both a conscious process by which we seek meaning for our losses and at the same time a deeply unconscious undertaking, in the recesses of our souls, in which we recover hope. It is the most arduous but also the most rewarding work we do, and we cannot escape it."
He wrote the book because he drew consolation from people who had themselves wrestled with suffering. The examples of others reveal ways for us to keep going.
He closes with a meditation on Czeslaw Milosz from whom he experienced that "to feel consoled, to be reconciled to one's losses, to have come to terms with one's shame and regrets, and to feel, despite everything, alive to the beauty of life." And this is not work we do once and are done. It is "the work of a lifetime."
I hope after these dark years we've all experienced, you've found some consolation in my detailed exploration of this book, which I intentionally read here at the beginning of my sabbatical. There is much to heal, learn, and grow from in what we've all experienced, and in what I've experienced in my personal life. I hope to use this sacred time away as a chance to really focus on the future and the possibilities ahead, to be alive to what comes next.