Levels of Life by Julian Barnes. Published by Jonathan Cape (Hardback) 2013
This is a wonderful short book about ballooning, photography, love and more specifically, an attempt by its author, Julian Barnes, to come to terms with the death of his wife.
Levels of Life will be a gift to those trying to make sense of their own grief or indeed anyone who has ever loved – ‘Because every love story is a potential grief story’. In articulating his own grief, he helps us understand how love and loss behave like two sides of a balanced, inevitable equation; ‘The thing is – nature is so exact, it hurts exactly as much as it is worth, so in a way one relishes the pain, I think. If it didn’t’ matter, it wouldn’t matter.’
Although grieving is not an illness, reading this book brought me back to importance of stories and patient narratives in medicine; stories help their tellers make sense of their own world when it all goes wrong.
One of our jobs as health care professionals, according to writer and doctor Jay Baruch*, is to be ‘professional story listeners’. Bearing witness to, and acknowledging these stories forms an important part of the healing process. These stories also connect us on a very human level to our patients, and in listening we may unexpectedly receive comfort in return.
I’m happy to recommend it to anyone, particularly those trying to make sense of loss or those trying to help them.
* Dr. Jay Baruch presented ‘Story-Centric: curiosity, a glass of water and other creative tools for future doctors’ as part of Millenial Medicine 2013.