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  • Writer's pictureKarl Koerber

Death Is Easy - Dying Is Hard: Judy Smith's novel examines the struggle for a dignified death

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

(My review of Judy Smith's book, as it appeared in the December 5 edition of the Castlegar News)

Margo McIntyre wants to die but it isn’t easy.

She has suffered a debilitating stroke that has left her with permanent damage; she can no longer speak and is paralysed on her right side. She does not wish to live like this but does not qualify for a doctor-assisted suicide. The stroke is also eroding her cognitive ability and she fears that she will soon lose control over her life. She needs a plan, fast.

In her engaging, highly readable and entertaining novel, Death is Easy, Dying is Hard, Castlegar author Judy Smith tackles the difficult but topical subject of death with dignity through the compelling story of Margo and her circle of family and friends.

Finding herself suddenly confined to a hospital bed, an incapacitated Margo struggles to find a solution to her dilemma while her husband, her daughter and various other friends and family members try to dissuade her from the extreme course of action she has chosen. Although she can’t speak, Margo communicates by using her one functioning hand to type terse messages on an electronic notebook.

As the days in hospital tick by, Margo’s past is slowly revealed through her own inner reflections and those of the family and friends whose stories have intersected with her own. A retired nurse, Margo is a complex character who, in her youth, embraced the ‘sixties counter-culture, which gave her permission to reject the rigid social conventions of her rural Saskatchewan upbringing. Strong-willed, judgemental and opinionated, sometimes to the point of intolerance, she is nevertheless compassionate and a champion of the downtrodden and oppressed. Her experiences working in isolated and often dysfunctional northern communities, as well as in regular hospitals, has left her somewhat cynical and disillusioned by the medical system and, perhaps, by human nature itself. Still, a strong thread of humanity remains at the core of her personality, and this trait finds expression in the many relationships—lovers, partners, children, siblings, colleagues and friends—that have punctuated her life over the years.

Now, as her plan takes shape, the important people in her life, both past and present, are brought into focus. Her life’s story is revisited, both in conversations with those who arrive at her bedside and in flashbacks of past encounters. Margo’s decision to end it has brought an urgency to those wishing to heal old wounds and make peace with the past.

Smith has a riveting narrative style that draws the reader in after the first few pages. Paramount in her writing is the story, and this is storytelling at its best. Margo and her supporting cast of characters are vividly brought to life through the dialogue that drives the plot. Reminiscent of a play or movie script, the conversations feel natural, the characters sympathetic and convincing. Adding to the cinematic feel is the literary device Smith employs for Margo’s voice. The cryptic phrases typed out on her notebook are rendered in italics, which works to add an edgy tempo to her exchanges with the visitors bringing their various agendas to her hospital room. Her patience is spent. It’s time.

Smith will launch her new book at 7pm on December 16, at Second Look Used Books, 1101 4th Street, Castlegar. Refreshments will be served, and books will be available for sale ($10) and signing. Copies can also be purchased at Yes, Please and Second Look Used Books in Castlegar and through

Karl Koerber is the author of Through the Whirlpool — Swept Up in the Nazi Apocalypse.

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