BEST BOOKS ON
PREPARING FOR DEATH


Selected and reviewed by James Park,

existential philosopher and medical ethicist

Listed in general order of quality
The red comments are the evaluations of this reviewer.

 Copyright © 2014 by James Leonard Park


1. Jane Brody

Jane Brody's Guide to the Great Beyond:
A Practical Primer to Help You and Your Loved Ones
Prepare Medically, Legally, and Emotionally for the End of Life

(New York: Random House, 2009)       287 pages
(ISBN: 978-1-4000-6654-4; hardback)
(Library of Congress call number: R726.2.B76 2009)

    Well known as a food and health writer,
Jane Brody takes on a subject usually left to chance and tradition:
How to face our own deaths.

    This book is based on extensive reading
in many other books on each of the subjects discussed:
Advance Directives for Medical Care,
funerals or memorial services,
dealing with final diseases,
when we might be unconscious,
futile medical treatment,
locations for dying,
life-support systems,
managing pain,
hospice care,
religious issues at the end of life,
the deaths of children,
discussing impending death,
doctors who disappear when terminal care begins,
choosing death instead of waiting for the end,
dealing with the grief of losing a loved one,
organ and tissue donation,
autopsy,
what will we leave behind?

    Jane Brody explores all these issues for ordinary readers.
We will all benefit from following her advice.
She offers examples of people who were poorly prepared for death.

    The title was probably selected by the publisher.
Nothing in this book deals with another realm beyond earthly life.
Even if there is no "Great Beyond",
we can all benefit from the wise preparations in this book
for dealing with everything that will happen in the last year of the life of each reader.
And even before we ourselves come to the end of our lives,
we will probably deal with at least a few other people who will die before us.

    How prepared will we be for life to come to an end?



2. Forrest Church

Love & Death:
My Journey through the Valley of the Shadow

(Boston, MA: Beacon Press: www.beacon.com, 2008)       145 pages
(ISBN: 978-0-8070-7293-6; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: BX9855.C48 2008)

    A well-known Unitarian Universalist minister
faces his own coming death from cancer.
This book collects all his best thinking and best sermons
concerning the largest questions of life and death.
There are no simple answers, such as life-after-death.
But we are led thru all of the changes he and his family experienced
as he paced out his last few months of life.

    This book is philosophical and spiritual rather than practical.
But it does deal in depth with one person's journey into death.



3. Joanne Lynn, MD & Joan Harrold, MD

Handbook for Mortals:
Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness

(New York: Oxford University Press: www.oup.com, 1999)       242 pages
(ISBN: 0-19-511662-3; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: R726.8.H353 1999)

    The two authors had help from several other people
who contributed and commented on this handbook for dying.
Thus it represents a very broad consensus of main-stream thinking
about all of the medical issues that each us will have to face
when we come to the end of our lives.


    Some important themes:
Finding meaning as life comes to an end.
Family involvement in care and decisions.
Getting help from others when needed.
Talking with doctors.
Controlling pain.
Managing other symptoms.
Dying from the most common diseases.
Planning care in advance.
Forgoing medical treatment.
Shortening the process of dying.
Coping with the last few days.
Dying suddenly.
Grieving.

    This book has been carefully crafted for laypeople to understand.
Each theme is discussed briefly and thoughtfully.
And, as the idea of a handbook implies, it can be read in any order.
Many readers will turn first to a problem they are confronting immediately.
It deserves to be revised and republished in every generation.
We are all mortal.



4. Patricia Anderson

Affairs in Order:
A Complete Resource Guide for Death and Dying

(New York: Macmillan, 1991)       315 pages

    Everything you need to do in preparing for your own death
or the death of someone else.
Concise, thoughtful, undogmatic, open-minded, informative,
and full of alternatives for every choice we must make.
Annotated bibliography for further reading in each chapter.

    Chapters on: estate wills; disposition of remains; commemorations;
'living wills' and other advance medical planning; deciding for others;
definitions of death; merciful death and voluntary death;
locations for dying (hospital, nursing home, hospice);
caring for the dead body; final business affairs; grief and bereavement.
The best single source for planning for death.


5. Thomas A. Preston, MD

Final Victory:
Taking Charge of the Last Stages of Life,
Facing Death on Your Own Terms

(Roseville, CA: Prima Publishing: www.primaforum.com, 2000)       252 pages
(ISBN: 0-7615-2899-7; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: R726.8.P73 2000)

    A thoughtful and open-minded doctor
offers basic advice on preparing for death.
Major themes:

    (1) Get ready in advance of terminal illness:
advance directives for medical care,
talking about death with your doctor, relatives, & friends.

    (2) Understand your diagnosis and prognosis:
Questions to ask your doctor.
Legal methods of choosing your pathway towards death:
Do-Not-Resuscitate orders in case your heart and/or lungs give out.
Increasing your pain-medication
with the awareness that it might shorten the dying process.
Choosing terminal sedation to become continuously unconscious
while giving up all means of nutrition and hydration.
Ending all curative treatments and life-support systems.
And (where legal) physician aid-in-dying
in the form of chemicals that will bring immediate death.

    (3) Preparing for the last stages of life and the process of dying:
Becoming emotionally and physically ready to die.
Making final emotional and interpersonal adjustments.
Finding the best helpers for the final days.
Getting the best control of the symptoms associated with dying.
Discussing your end-of-life plans with everyone concerned.
Saying your most meaningful good-byes.
Physical, emotional, & interpersonal changes to expect at the end.

    This is a non-technical bookeasy for anyone to read and understand.
Its advice is general, but there are some specific examples
of people who dealt with all of the issues discussed.
Dr. Preston might be too optimistic about how much communications is possible
between doctors and their dying patients.
The author probably talks with his patients more than most physicians.
And he is very open to the possibility of helping patients to die.


6. Dan Morhaim, MD

The Better End:
Surviving (and Dying) on Your Own Terms
in Today's Medical World

(Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press: www.press.jhu.edu, 2012)       150 pages
(ISBN: 978-1-4214-0417-2; hardcover)
(ISBN: 978-1-4214-0418-9; paperback)
(Library of Congress call number: R726.M692 2012)
(Medical call number: W85.5M853b 2012)

    A physician who is also a state legislator
offers some easy-to-understand advice about getting ready to die.
He encourages everyone to create an Advance Directive for Medical Care.
The best parts of the book are probably the chapters
that describe the last days of several real patients.
Those who did not prepare were handled according to standard medical practice.
But those who had planned in advance were able to die well.

    This is a brief book, but it touches many bases,
which should empower us, the readers, to begin thinking about
what pathways we want to follow as we approach death.



7. Judith Ahronheim, MD & Doron Weber

Final Passages:
Positive Choices for the Dying and Their Loved Ones

(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992)       285 pages   

    A very helpful book for thinking about end-of-life choices,
filled with real-life illustrations of people who prepared well for death
and others who did not.

    Themes covered:
(1) Becoming serious and verbal about our own deaths;
(2) Improving communications among doctors, patient, & family;
    (This chapter also includes discussion of
    the most common causes of death.);
(3) The right-to-die and irrational suicide,
    including physician involvement in ending life;
(4) Pain control and comfort care;
(5) Clinical depression upon facing death
and treating it;
(6) Natural shutting down of the body as death approaches;
(7) Hospice;
(8) Living wills;
(9) Financial problems and planning for terminal care, nursing homes, & death;
(10) Emotional responses to the prospect of dying.
 



8. Daniel R. Tobin, MD with Karen Lindsey

Peaceful Dying:
The Step-by-Step Guide to Preserving Your Dignity,
Your Choice, and Your Inner Peace at the End of Life

(Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press: www.dacapopress.com, 2003)       206 pages
(ISBN: 0-7382-0034-4; paperback)


    This book divides the process of dying into 26 steps,
explained in ways that anyone can understand.
Major themes:
Talking with your doctor and family.
Creating an Advance Directive.
Searching for meaning in your life.
Making decisions about terminal care.
Pain control.
Spiritual concerns.

    Altho this book breaks no new ground,
it can be helpful to patients and their families
as they face the process of dying perhaps for the first time.



9. Martin Shepard, MD

Someone You Love is Dying:
A Guide for Helping and Coping

(New York: Harmony Books, 1975)     291 pages

    A practical book examining all of the issues
faced by the dying and their families:
feelings, finances, telling the truth about dying, miracle cures, pain,
family problems, dying at home, funerals, bereavement, life after death.
Easy to read, most helpful for people
who have not seriously faced these issues before.
Many good illustrations drawn from the lives
of dying patients and their families.


10. Patricia Weenolsen, PhD

The Art of Dying:
How to Leave This World with Dignity and Grace,
at Peace with Yourself and Your Loved Ones

(New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996)       299 pages
(ISBN: 0-312-14278-1; hardcover)
(Library of Congress call number: BF789.D4W34 1996)

    The author is a psychologist with extensive experience
dealing with the issues surrounding death and dying.
This wide-ranging book raises all the most important questions.
And when the right questions are asked,
that does not limit the depth of the replies we can make.

    Large parts of the book are really about coping with illness and disability
rather than preparing for death.
The book is popular and optimistic in tone.
And some readers will find the answers to be superficial.
But it is always worth raising the questions.
Check the table of contents on the Internet
for a good overview of The Art of Dying.


11. Melvin J. Krant, MD

Dying and Dignity: The Meaning and Control of a Personal Death

(Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1974)       154 pages

    A wise and compassionate book.
Dr. Krant examines all the personal issues surrounding death:
the ways we normally die in hospitals, the denials, the doctors,
family problems, euthanasia, seeking better ways to die.
Well-written and non-technical.


12. Ernest Morgan

Dealing Creatively with Death:
A Manual of Death Education and Simple Burial

(Burnsville, NC: Celo Press, 1984—10th Edition)       156 pages

    Brief discussions of: death education; modes and places of dying;
bereavement; the right to die; simple burial and cremation;
memorial societies; death ceremonies.


13. David E. Outerbridge & Alan R. Hersh MD

Easing the Passage:
A Guide for Prearranging and Ensuring
a Pain-Free and Tranquil Death
via a Living Will, Personal Medical Mandate,
and Other Medical, Legal, and Ethical Resources

(New York: HarperCollins, 1991)       162 pages

    The first 1/3 of this book deals with the need for advance planning,
with examples of what happens to people
without advance directives for medical care.
Besides the matters mentioned in the sub-title, the book covers:
patient rights; right-to-die; pain-control;
comfort while dying; & family physicians.


14. Stephen S. Rosenfeld 

The Time of Their Dying

(New York: Norton, 1977)       189 pages 

    An editorial writer for the Washington Post
tells step-by-step of the deaths of both of his parents from cancer,
within 5 months of each other.
Both were permitted to die at home.
A very human document. Recommended.



[last] James Leonard Park

How to Die:
Safeguards for Life-Ending Decisions

(Minneapolis, MN: Existential Books: www.existentialbooks.com, 2016)       530 pages

    This book advocates open and public safeguards for all life-ending decisions.
See the complete table of contents,
from which all chapters and safeguards in this book can be read on the Internet.



    Send additional suggestions for books
to be included on this bibliography
Best Books on Preparing for Death
by e-mail to James Park:
PARKx032@tc.umn.edu
revised 4-22-2009; 9-15-2010; 1-22-2011; 2-10-2012; 3-31-2012; 7-14-2012; 4-11-2013; 5-17-2013; 6-29-2013; 11-18-2014;


If you would like to read an on-line essay on this theme, go to:
"Taking Death in Stride: Practical Planning"



See related bibliographies:


Advance Directives for Medical Care

Best Books on Voluntary Death


Best Books on Preparing for Death


Books on Terminal Care

Medical Methods of Choosing Death


Books on Helping Patients to Die


Books on the Right-to-Die


Books Opposing the Right-to-Die


Go to the Right-to-Die Portal.


Go to the Book Review Index
to discover 350 other reviews organized into 60 bibliographies.


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