Rochester, New York City Guide
Rochester, NY City Guide

© 1996-2015 Max Lent Communications




An Annotated Bibliography of Books on End of Life Issues

By Geoff Lister

Click on book title to place an order.

A Few Months to Live, Different Paths to Life’s End,” by Jana Staton, Roger Shuy, and Ira Byock. Georgetown University Press, 2001. ISBN : 0-87840-840-1.

A unique account of the last months of nine people dying in Missoula, Montana, in 1997. Broken up into sections that isolate important parts of their dying experiences, it offers brief quotes and stories from the patients and their families to bring to life what the actual dying experience is like. Sections include “Communicating about Death and Dying,” “Family Caregiving Experience,” and “Personal Growth, Meaning, and Spirituality, among others. A real value of drawing on so many people is to underline the diversity in how the dying and their families approach and experience these last few months. This book will be of great interest to nurses and physicians trying to understand the varieties of ways that people find strength and meaning in dying.

The Good Death, The New American Search to Reshape the End of Life,” by Marilyn Webb. Bantam Books, 1997. ISBN: 0-553-09555-2. $24.95 HB.

This is a long book, written by someone familiar with the contemporary movement that surrounds hospice, to help the dying and their caregivers learn new skills, particularly spiritual skills, to help them grow from the experience of dying. She starts with the story of a woman’s long fight with breast cancer, her eventual acceptance of her dying, and the growth she experienced in dying. This story alone is worth the whole book. She goes on to tell the recent history of the effort to create the possibility of a “good death” including the efforts of pioneers such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, but also Stephen Levine, Ram Das, and Rachel Naomi Remen. For caregivers or health professionals seeking a spiritual framework for helping the dying, this book will be invaluable. She ends with proposals for what needs to be changed to allow a good death to be more widely available.


The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying,” by Sogyal Rimpoche. HarperSan Francisco, 1993. ISBN: 0-06-250834-2 pbk., 0-06-250793-1 cloth. $17 pbk.

This is a book that needs to be digested over a long period of time; it is too intense to be read through quickly. It offers practical advice on how to meditate. Complex Buddhist views about the nature of the mind and of dying are clearly explained. Chapter 11 can almost be read separately from the rest of the book; it is called “Heart Advice on Helping the Dying.” The last sentence reads, “There is no greater gift of charity you can give than helping a person to die well.” The author gives sufficient guidelines so that anyone who is interested can try out the ancient Tibetan practices of Phowa and Tonglen to deepen their spiritual strength in dealing with the death of others and their own death. This book will be useful to someone seeking a spiritual framework for helping someone else die; it will be most useful in helping someone with a spiritual bent prepare for their own death.

Facing Death and Finding Hope, A guide to the Emotional and Spiritual Care of the Dying,” by Christine Longaker. Doubleday, 1997. ISBN: 0-385-48331-7. $23.95 cloth. Now available in paperback.

This book is written by an American student of Sogyal Rimpoche who has worked with hospice in California. She also lost her husband to leukemia. She explains some of the same material in her own words that Sogyal Rimpoche writes about in the previous book. On pages 69-71 she has an explanation of a loving kindness meditation that can be practiced by anyone. She encourages all of us to search for how we can find a meaning in our lives that makes each day worth living: “What is the most important thing, and how much time am I giving to it?” This book is more approachable than Sogyal Rimpoche’s for someone not familiar with Tibetan Buddhism. It is shorter and more accessible than Rimpoche’s book for health professionals. For anyone who might dismiss such a book as only being of help for someone in the field of hospice care, she notes that the tasks for the dying are really the same as the tasks of the living if they wish to live fully.

 “The True Work of Dying, A Practical and Compassionate Guide to Easing the Dying Process,” Jan Selliken Bernard and Miriam Schneider. Avon Books, 1996, ISBN # 0-380-78289-8. paperback $12.

Written by two nurses who worked together first at a free standing hospice in Oregon, and then formed a business to help others care for their dying family members. It has two emphases: it focuses on the last several weeks of life and it emphasizes the spiritual aspects of dying and of end of life care. It is more a book of help than a book that would help a researcher in end of life issues. They emphasize how they have seen healing come out of the dying process. A very hopeful and helpful book. A paragraph in a section called, “The Meaning of Angels” gives the flavor of their writing: “The experience of spiritual or other beings that only the dying person can see is a familiar theme. The presence may be a relative or friend who has died….For many, the most accurate description of these visits is an angelic presence. We believe these visits begin to prepare the dying one and those who care for him or her. The death moment is somehow fulfilled with the coming and goings of these heavenly visitors.”  

 “A Midwife Through the Dying Process, Stories of Healing & Hard Choices at the End of Life,” by Timothy E. Quill, M.D. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. ISBN #: 0-8018-5516-0.

This book is written with a rare honesty of the agony that doctors face in their roles as midwives to their dying patients. Here is such a passage: “I tried to keep myself, as well as Cynthia and her family, focused on the present and not on the future. “How long do I have? One of the dreaded questions asked of doctors, both by patients and by their families (as we move just out of hearing range). “I don’t know.” “But what do you think?” I try to be honest, while always leaving room for the unexpected. “Probably not too long—a few weeks, maybe a month or two, though there are exceptions in either direction.” “How bad do you think it will get?” “It is hard to know, but we will work together to find solutions, no matter what happens.” This book is written around the stories of nine of Dr. Quill’s dying patients. The commentary about the stories is most directly addressed to fellow doctors, but will be helpful to nurses and other people helping the dying who may be more tolerant towards physicians thanks to his rare ability to clarify the struggles that doctors face when their patients are dying.

 “Final Gifts, “ by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelle7. Walker and Company, 1992, ISBN # 0-8027-2692-5.

Written by two nurses with long hospice experience in the Washington, D.C. area, this book offers a theoretical framework to help family and caregivers better understand messages that can occur within the confused ramblings of the dying. They call their theory “Near Death Awareness”. Two types of messages appear—ones indicating how the person is experiencing they dying experience, such as seeing or communicating with now dead loved ones, and ones that indicate unfinished business that they need to complete before dying. The authors illustrate their theory with many stories of the patients they worked with. I was struck by how many of the stories concern the experience of relatively young people dying, where the dying may well need unusual help. I personally have not seen much of the kind of communication they discuss, but I don’t doubt the reality of what they have seen or its importance when it does occur. The authors have suggestions on how to help the dying better express their needs and on how the caregivers can better understand those needs. A bonus is that the book has an excellent chapter on the history and philosophy of the hospice movement.



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