Six weeks to live

by Cathy Chua

Ambrose finds out he has only weeks to live. How to spend that time is the premise of The End of the Alphabet (2007). It’s a condensed weepie in which Ambrose decides to visit a series of places with his wife that will take them through the alphabet. Somehow Richardson manages to stick to a minimalist elegance which probably saves the book from being schmaltzy book club fodder. And heck, you’d almost look forward to dying the way it’s put. Bucket list: die like this.

But then, there is real life. I’ve watched people who have been given a few weeks to live and it isn’t anything like art. My friend Richard found out in his mid-fifties. He’d complained about his stomach, been told there was nothing wrong, complained some more and was given the revised verdict. Pancreatic cancer, six weeks left. If it could be reassuring to be told this, he was advised that the first misdiagnosis didn’t matter. Richard spent what time he had left with his family: I felt guilt that we got to visit him for a precious hour. He was a Christian, maybe that inspired the serene and accepting way he set about his dying days.

I read The End of the Alphabet some years after Richard died. It didn’t give me any answers. How would I spend those last days of my life, should I be given that sentence? Perhaps it depends on the odds. Richard’s chances of survival were zero. What if you had ways of making that 1%? Would you take it? What would you be willing to pay to roll that dice? Read more »