Film / Book Reviews

Through the Valley: The Art of Living and Leaving Well

Aug 2019    

This book draws its title from the twenty-third Psalm: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. It is no surprise then that this readable volume is about journeying through the valley to age well and die well.

Dr William Wan is eminently qualified to write on this topic, having won the Active Ageing Award in 2011. He still serves as the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement—a role he took on at 64, when many others would be thinking of retirement.

The book’s numerous anecdotes and witticisms make for a lively and thought-provoking read. Dr Wan writes of being “re-fired” even after being “retired”, and explains how a bucket list can help one remain open to the idea of growth even in one’s golden years.

Dr Wan covers familiar topics such as maintaining mental and emotional health, eating well, exercising properly, remaining engaged and humble through constant learning, and enjoying simple pleasures such as showing kindness to others, including to caregivers. Beyond these, he also shares how his Christian faith and spiritual disciplines provide an important anchor for his growing older.

These are useful concepts, although some readers may seek more elaboration on what these might look like for different groups, such as those facing involuntary premature retirement, those who cannot afford to stop working due to financial need, or those who are already in poor health upon retirement.

The author also addresses the taboo of having conversations about death (cleverly called “die-logues”), pointing out that keeping silent has negative consequences for both the deceased and for those who remain. He shares some examples from his own life, providing a helpful model for readers who may struggle with how to initiate such conversations.

The book also highlights various tools which help one prepare for death, such as wills, LPAs, AMDs or ACPs (confused? Then read the book!). Such instruments, though uncomfortable to consider and converse about, are crucial in sparing loved ones from confusion, contention or compunction. Readers should be careful, though, not to confuse these legitimate and important preparatory documents with other related concepts, such as physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia.  The latter, which are not elaborated in the book, are ethically problematic and cannot be endorsed.

The book’s final section explains the different stages of grief and the importance of tears in coming to terms with a bereavement. And just how does one comfort a person who is grieving? Dr Wan provides helpful suggestions, gleaned from his years of experience as a pastor and counsellor, for what to say as well as what not to say.

The book closes, not with a conclusion from the author, but with writers from various backgrounds sharing personal stories about living well and dying well. A fitting end, for no matter one’s creed, class, or skin colour, we will all age and we will all face death. Readers of Through the Valley will certainly be better equipped to go through it well.

Gilbert Lok worships and serves at Aldersgate Methodist Church. He recently graduated from Trinity Theological College with a Master of Divinity, and will be undertaking further training in New Testament at Oxford University. Upon his return, he hopes to serve in the pastoral ministry.

Through the Valley: The Art of Living and Leaving Well
By William Wan
Published by Straits Times Press (2019), 300 pages
$28 (before GST)

Book visual courtesy of Straits Times Press


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