Books, Death & Dying Books, Healing Books, Uncategorized, Wellness Books

Contemporary Books on Death, Dying, and Transcendence – A Book Shepherd and Palliative Care Advocate’s Short List

There are a plethora of books, fiction and non-fiction, on dying, death, and transcendence.

In fact, there are hundreds and hundreds of texts, essays, and plays from time immemorial fascinated with the subject of mortality. They continue to be written.

The focus here is non-fiction books. Though I wonder if some ancient texts could have been based on fantasy. 😉 How would we know?!

Some of the first tomes written about death in part or whole were – The Egyptian Book of the Dead – funeral text from circa 1550 B.C.; The Bible (Moses’ five books circa 1000 B.C. to the first half of first century A.D. – Revelations, Samuel, Chronicles, Job); and, The Tibetan Book of the Dead in the 8th century.

In the last 60 years, since the advent of modern palliative care and hospice via the founding of St. Christopher’s by Dame Cicely Saunders in London (1958), and the publication of psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ On Death and Dying (1969), there has been a vast increase in literature on this subject.

Currently, independent-minded, resourceful boomer generation folks (1946-1964) and the younger gen-x generation, are actively writing about death, dying, green burials, and sacred transitions. Hurrah!!

Aside from my beloved book work, the selected list below is also based on my experiences as a palliative care educator, advocate, hospice volunteer, and end-of-life planner.

Some titles are poignant, others poetic, others practical.

They are mostly experiential in content, from the point of view of physicians, nurses, social workers, psychologists, and lay people of every background and belief system. Each person (or persons) provides a unique perspective with perhaps a concept or idea that may be helpful for your own journey or someone else’s.

Before you search the list below, I wish to recommend The Year of Reading Dangerously Book Club where author guests are interviewed live-online; you the book club member may participate. Most club members work professionally with death and dying; they are located not only in the U.S. but tune in from other countries as well. See my blog with further detail about author, book club founder, and End-of-Life University founder Karen M. Wyatt, MD, hospice physician at https://wellnessshepherd.com/2018/08/05/death-dying-education-a-chat-with-end-of-life-universitys-karen-wyatt-md/

Abbreviated book list by categories:

Connecting with Loved Ones Still Present, and those who have passed

*** Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying by former hospice nurse Sallie Tisdale. I bought this book when it was published (summer 2018) because of its marvelous title, both humorous and practical. I wish I had written it. It represents many of my own takes on life and what I have learned from those who have kindly allowed me to sit with them, attend to them, and listen to their stories. Highly recommended. I hope to meet the author one day. She easily admitted in the opening pages something to the effect of how may I be an expert? I haven’t experienced my own death yet!!

Being Mortal by American/East Indian surgeon Atul Gawande is focused on the talk that most of us should have with loved ones – what do you want if you have a life-limiting illness, how do you wish to deal with modern medicine, and what do you wish for at end-of-life. A reminder to plan ahead, when possible, for yourself and for those you love. Well-written.

Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life by Dr. Ira Byock, California-based palliative care physician. He follows in detail how he lost his beloved parents and other relatives. Through such experiences, he shares, there are opportunities for the person dying and for his or her caregivers to connect and spiritually grow.

The Rainbow Comes and Goes American journalist Anderson Cooper and his amazing 94 year old mother Gloria Vanderbilt write about life, love and loss. Anderson’s father and brother both took their lives. I’ve read the book twice because I appreciated the candor, the tender-hearted humor, and the story-telling.

DSCN3714
THE RAINBOW COMES AND GOES by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt

What To Do When I’m Gone – A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter by Suzy Hopkins and Hallie Bateman (actual mother/daughter team – mother wrote the copy, daughter created the graphics; Bloomsbury USA, April 2018). This is a book I wish I had written or collaborated on. It is funny, poignant, simple, and wise – sharing what is meaningful in life. It also reminds me of another subject dear to my heart – how I always miss my precious mother even though I’ve found ways to keep her by my side. Here is a link to a longer book review written earlier this year… https://bookambassador.com/2018/06/08/what-to-do-when-im-gone-charming-new-book-about-mortality-and-what-we-can-mindfully-leave-behind/

Life-Limiting Illness and Meeting the Concept of Mortality

***Life After the Diagnosis: Expert Advice on Living Well with Serious Illness for Patients and Caregivers by Steven Z. Pantillat, MD, head of the Palliative Care Unit at UCSF Hospital. I am particularly biased, not only because his book is both a compassionate and practical guide, but because I have had the pleasure of a one-on-one with this sensitive soul who has years of dedicated experience. I pray I am not in need of medical care when it is my time, but he is a doctor I would choose.

***The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Zen Hospice founder Frank Ostaseski. I don’t know anyone who has read this book, been in Frank’s company, or watched him on You Tube videos who does not instantly relate to his warm, connecting way. I am sad that Zen Hospice, a model center for compassionate care, has closed. I was fortunate enough to visit twice. I highly recommend Frank O’s wise book. When I am in Mexico, the meditation book club I attended this year chose this as one of their books. The Spanish language version is selling well in Mexico and Spain!

DSCN3713
Frank Ostaseski’s THE FIVE INVITATIONS, a super popular book on Amazon, among colleagues, and, in Mexico!!

***When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinthi I’ve read this book twice and will eventually read it again. An honest, poignant, poetic, compelling exploration of mortality by a 37 year old neurosurgeon whom I wish I had known. Remarkable. Another plea for choosing to live your life to the fullest your last days.

Desire to Die

Choosing to Die by Phyllis Shacter An intimate, compassionate, first-hand account of how her husband with Alzheimer’s chose VSED (voluntary stop eating and drinking) when he felt he was going to loose his quality of life. He died 9 1/2 days later. She gently shares how this must not be viewed as suicide but rather as elective death. VSED is a concept to reflect upon and pray you might not need. Note: There is a documentary film of the same title from BBC Scotland, but it is not about VSED.

Funeral Industry

American Way of Death Revisited A brave, scathing, investigative review of the American funeral industry by Jessica Mitford. First published 1963; updated in 1996.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by feisty, funny, super articulate Los Angeles-based mortician Caitlin Doughty, founder of the Order of the Good Death. A call to return to the “old ways”, natural ways, with dignified, sacred rituals honoring those who have passed, and more.

Title to be added here when I am introduced to a well-researched book about sacred green funerals and green burials.

During and After Death Rituals

Sacred Dying by theologian and founder of the Sacred Dying Foundation, Megory Anderson A well-conceived book offering many options. Excellent pull quotes in the margins and an appendix with a variety of prayers, poetry, and sacred texts. She is currently working on a second book for 2019 release.

The Craft of Compassion at the Bedside of the Ill aka Conspiracies of Kindness by Michael Ortiz Hill, hospice nurse, rescue worker, Buddhist practitioner, and an initiated medicine man with the tribal people of Zimbabwe. Loving, deep, spiritual. Five stars on Amazon.

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying “There is no greater gift of charity you can give than helping a person to die well.” – Sogyal Rinpoche, monk and author of this 1992 modern version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I might phrase it another way… I find the gift comes from patients. In any event, it is a human right to die comfortably, in a dignified way, according to the wishes of the person you are attending. We might be guides or witnesses; the journey belongs exclusively to the dying. Before and after rituals are described in the Tibetan material as well as consciousness after death in the bardo, the interval between death and the next rebirth.

Goodreads.com is an excellent place to search for more books.

If you go to Amazon.com and search books on death and dying, there are over 20 pages of books to choose from. Some are mentioned above, other titles include Dying A Memoir by Australian Cory Taylor (a favorite of a NY Times reviewer – I like the beautiful vintage book cover with sweet birds and the beginning best. She and a group with illness discuss ways to out themselves so they have fall back – none of them end up choosing to die by hemlock or other method); Sherwin Nuland’s How We Die, Terri Daniel’s Embracing Death: A New Look at Grief, Gratitude, and God; Stephen Levine’s A Year to Live (a concept I like – living every day of one year as if it were your last), and social worker Henry Fersko-Weiss’ Caring for the Dying: The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death.

DSCN3716
CARING FOR THE DYING: The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death

My apologies to those of you whose books are not included – so many worthy books to choose from, and many as yet unread.

Note: Because I am a student of mortality, and a book shepherd, please note how I unabashedly admit I would welcome guiding an author, medical professional or not, for publication on any of the subjects above 😉 Thank you!!!

Other books and resources may be found at:

https://www.eoluniversity.com/A%20Year%20of%20Reading%20Dangerously%20Book%20List.pdf Dr. Karen Wyatt’s 2018 Year of Reading Dangerously booklist
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/14/books/review/the-good-death-when-breath-becomes-air-and-more.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0 Brilliant review by Andrew Solomon of five books on death and dying.
https://whatsyourgrief.com/32-books-about-death-and-grief/ 32 books both fiction and non-fiction
https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2018/02/06/books-about-death-and-dying 48 books both fiction and non-fiction
https://cicelysaundersinternational.org/dame-cicely-saunders/
https://www.ekrfoundation.org/elisabeth-kubler-ross/

Socrates on death (470-399 B.C.)
“To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils.” This brave and humorous man was ironically sentenced to death by drinking hemlock for his “threatening” philosophies. Shortly before his final breath, it is written Socrates described his death as a release of his soul from his body.

Advertisements
Death & Dying Books, Healing Books, Uncategorized

What to Do When I’m Gone – Charming New Book About Mortality and What We Can Mindfully Leave Behind

Here’s a book I wish I had written, collaborated on, or been the book shepherd or marketer for.  It is beautifully produced and illustrated. It has a fine (perfect) title and an ideal cover (cover brighter than in the photo below), and, just the right amount of content. It combines my love of literature (sharing about what’s meaningful and poignant in life), and my devotion as an end-of-life guide and planner. It also reminds me of another subject dear to my heart –  how I always miss my precious mother even though I’ve found ways to keep her by my side.

DSCN2986
Heart-centered, tender book about dying and transitions by Suzy Hopkins & Hallie Bateman

California-based mother-daughter duo Suzy Hopkins (former editor and reporter) and Hallie Bateman (illustrator) have written and designed an authentic, charming, sometimes humorous ode to mortality including memories we leave behind after we have made our physical departure.

The book is What to Do When I’m Gone – A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter (Bloomsbury USA, April 2018)

I had the pleasure of meeting and engaging with the author mother and her illustrator daughter at Skylight Books in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles in May 2018. Every seat was filled for this public chat and book signing. Attendees paid close attention to the subject.  The discussion also included the profound connections most mother and daughters have, and how such connections seem to endure for generations.

The concept for the book? Hallie shared how she suffered a nightmare about loosing her mother. Four years later, after much pleading, her mother was convinced to write how Hallie could survive without continuing earthly contact.

Author Suzy Hopkins & Illustrator Daughter Hallie Bateman
Author Suzy Hopkins & Illustrator Daughter Hallie Bateman at Skylight Books, Los Angeles, May 2018

 

Mother Suzy shared it wasn’t easy to write the book. She was overcome with emotion and cried, often.

Some might wonder… how could the subject of anyone’s passing be positive?

One possible answer: The subject contributes to the growing national and worldwide dialogue (at palliative care centers, hospitals, hospices, Death Cafes – see http://www.deathcafe.com – and more) about making friends with eventual death, asking ourselves what we wish to do before our demise. The book is suggesting… let’s talk about it.

When you read the endearing prose with instructions, and savor the sentimental graphics, you’ll get the picture, literally and subliminally. There is also a fair amount of humor as you can (barely) see in my photo shot of the cemetery below where the tombstone reads “I love the idea of people talking about me after I’m gone.”

DSCN2992
Tombstone reads “I love the idea of people talking about me after I’m gone.”  Art work by Hallie Bateman

 

We will all make our transitions one day. If we are mindful, we can assist by being good models for our children, godchildren, siblings, adopted families, friends, and other loved ones.

I recommend this book. As the back cover suggests, “it is a guide to daily living, both practical and sublime!!”

 

Book Clubs, Book Clubs Around the World, Books, Healing Books, Health Books, Uncategorized, Wellness Books

Book Clubs Around the World, Even for Americans Abroad

How do you find a book club?  Where are book clubs? What are the possible benefits?

Goodreads.com lists 710 groups with diverse interests in countries as far flung as Malaysia and as close as Mexico.

Clubs are focused on innumerable subjects – business, feminism, films based on books, gardening, LGBT, memoir, politics, romance novels, science fiction, Japanese thrillers, YA (Young Adult fiction), those that have won awards, etc.

There used to be clubs on radio and TV you could listen to, participating only as a reader – The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America Book Club, NPR’s Book Club of the Air with Ray Suarez, and even a “Wake-Up Reading” Club in Spanish hosted by Jorge Ramos on Univision. 

Now, there are special book news reports on TV (mostly PBS), as well as podcasts that stream 24/7 on on-line radio programs.

In June of this year the American Library Association inaugurated, with actress Sarah Jessica Parker, a new book club, a national book club.  See http://www.bookclubcentral.org as well as the live video link from ABC News in the reference section below.  The Book Club Central link will show you how to register for the newsletter and club if interested. I imagine most of the recommended reading will be similar to Oprah or Costco picks, award-winning fiction with original voices.

But for those of you who love reading, AND those of you who enjoy social engagement and dialogue over listening to radio or TV reviews/interviews, there are book clubs, probably in your own community.

Library room with comfy places to sit and read in the sun. Maybe a bay window and window seat
 photo from livebreathedecor.com

(If the home above were mine, I would invite book club members to meet. I’d add comfy pillows to the wicker love seat, another club chair, a sofa. I’d distribute books, serve tea, and delight in the company and the exchange).

The easiest ways to learn about local clubs are to ask local writers, writers groups, and librarians; look on-line for book groups at http://www.MeetUp.com (search by city, state, country); search community bulletin boards and activities listed in newspapers; or, Google what you wish to find. And if there isn’t a club that matches your preferences, perhaps you can start one.

In August of 2016 an enterprising Canadian accountant, retired, decided to start a non-fiction book club at Lake Chapala, Mexico, about an hour south of Guadalajara, the country’s second largest city.  His plan was to discover and read engaging English-language books, and, attract members of the community who represented diverse nationalities, experiences, and opinions.

“In a world of growing polarization and conflict, the members of the Ajijic Book Club, in a spirit of celebrating the oneness of humanity, seek to engage in civil dialogue with each other especially when confronted by deeply held opposing views,” states the founder.

Even though some of the residents at the lake are snowbirds, living only six months a year in Mexico, others reside full-time, up to and including residents who are published authors.

To discuss various subjects the Ajijic Book Club has gathered psychotherapists (one an author), a lawyer, an American MD (also author) who worked for the World Health Organization, a businessman (also author) who started a hospice in Canada, a non-profit administrator from the states who became a yoga teacher, a Canadian English literature professor born and raised in Germany, a retired Canadian foreign service officer, an American hospice nurse, and the founder, Dutch born but raised in Nova Scotia and Calgary, among other members.

See http://www.AjijicBookClub.com for a list of books recently read and reviewed. The book scheduled for January 2018 discussion is:

  A Disappearance in Damascus by Deborah Campbell journalist, winner of the prestigious Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust award for 2016. The book video can be viewed at this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSl5BqSfbmI

Benefits of book clubs?     Meeting people in your community, exchanges on subjects you are passionate about, a way to expose your book if you are an author, a way to keep your mind sharp no matter where you are living on the planet.

Ex-pat (not a term I favor) book clubs around the world, which include not only Americans but Aussies, Brits, Canadians and other nationalities, can be found in Abu Dhabi, Australia, Hong Kong, Istanbul, London, Paris, Singapore, The Hague, Tokyo, and a myriad of other places. The Paris meetup calls itself the Paris Anglophone Book Club. It has over 2,000 members.

References

http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/sarah-jessica-parker-picks-1st-reading-selection-national/story?id=48237959

http://www.meetup.com

https://mmlafleur.com/mdash/types-of-book-clubs   (humorous)

http://www.oprah.com/omagazine/New-Book-Clubs-A-Different-Kind-of-Book-Club   new book clubs on the horizon

The Paris Anglophone Book Club

Paris, FR
2,486 Book lovers

If you love reading, live in Paris, but don’t feel up to discussing the finer points of Proust in French, welcome to an English-speaking book club.We’ll meet once a month to …

Next Meetup

Conservative Meetup – Mr. Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellow

Monday, Nov 19, 2018, 8:00 PM
13 Attending

Check out this Meetup Group →

Best-Selling Books, Books, Healing Books, Uncategorized

Best Book Titles of 2016 Per the New York Times and London’s Telegraph

(Click on 100 Notable Books of 2016 above for link to list)

I work with health and mental health authors as a book shepherd and marketing person. Other than subjects of physical and emotional pain (and how they possibly correlate with one other), I am most interested in the subject of facing end-of-life.

The most meaningful book I read this year, and obviously the most meaningful to others according to the NY Times best-seller list, was Dr. Paul Kalinthi’s intelligent, poetic When Breath Becomes Air.  It is about how he, a young neurosurgeon who receives a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer, chooses to live and share his last days.  I am sorry to say the Spanish translation in Mexico is entitled The Good Doctor which makes it sound egocentric and uninteresting, though translators would argue with me that the original title would never sell in the country.

In any event, I urge all appreciators to discover When Breath Becomes Air if you haven’t already. It makes two important points – we never know when our days in this lifetime might pass, and, if we can, prepare for that day in the most sacred way possible.

When Breath Becomes Air

Below is the link to London Telegraph‘s Best Book List 2016.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/top-50-books-year/

And, an interesting list from 2015 at the link below outline’s Sam Harris’ suggestion for books everyone should read no matter the year.  https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/07/21/sam-harris-reading-list/