7 Books About Death and Dying

Russ Krengel Book Recommendations

We are all in a state of general overwhelm today, bombarded by statistics about the COVID-19 pandemic, rising infection rates around the country. The information is intended to keep us engaged and informed, but one possibly unintended consequence is the daily and consistent reminder that we are all mere mortals, forced to think about our own mortality. Even those of us who are currently in good health, we are wired for worry — if not for ourselves then for our loved ones. Especially those that may be at higher risk of infection or too far away to see or visit, from even socially safe distances. In these times, it can be cathartic to embrace the situation, open up to the kind of information that is available and instead of working to avoid these stressful thoughts, instead lean in to gain insight, get educated and make some decisions for your own future and to foster heartfelt discussions with loved ones. Following is a collection of suggested resources, good books, on the subject of death, dying and dealing with our mortality. It is a set of great reads, well suited for a variety of situations. We have curated this collection in the name of wellness and wellbeing. Families and friends should talk things through. You owe it to yourself to take a moment and consider your own thoughts and ideas on this difficult but predictable subject. We will all come to this juncture at some point. It may as well be on our own terms.

Being Mortal

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

by Atul Gawande

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.

Final Gifts

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying

by Maggie Callanan

Through their stories we come to appreciate the near-miraculous ways in which the dying communicate their needs, reveal their feelings, and even choreograph their own final moments; we also discover the gifts—of wisdom, faith, and love—that the dying leave for the living to share.

Filled with practical advice on responding to the requests of the dying and helping them prepare emotionally and spiritually for death, Final Gifts shows how we can help the dying person live fully to the very end.

Dying Well

Dying Well

by Ira Byock MD

This is Ira Byock’s dream, and he is dedicating his life to making it come true. Dying Well brings us to the homes and bedsides of families with whom Dr. Byock has worked, telling stories of love and reconciliation in the face of tragedy, pain, medical drama, and conflict. Through the true stories of patients, he shows us that a lot of important emotional work can be accomplished in the final months, weeks, and even days of life. It is a companion for families, showing them how to deal with doctors, how to talk to loved ones—and how to make the end of life as meaningful and enriching as the beginning.

I wasn't ready to say goodbye

I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One

The grief book that just “gets it.”  Whether you’re grieving the sudden loss of a loved one or helping someone else through their grief, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye offers a comforting hand to help guide you through the grieving process, from the first few weeks to the longer-term emotional and physical effects. It then reveals some of the myths of the grieving process and what really happens as you navigate through the pain.

Written by two authors who have experienced it firsthand, this book has offered solace to over one-hundred fifty-thousand people, ranging from seniors to teenagers and from the newly bereaved to those who lost a loved one years ago.

An exploration of unexpected death and its role in the cycle of life, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye provides those people coping with grief with a rock-steady anchor from which to weather the storm of pain and begin to rebuild their lives.

On Grief and Grieving

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss

by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross M.D. and David Kessler

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying changed the way we talk about the end of life. Before her own death in 2004, she and David Kessler completed On Grief and Grieving, which looks at the way we experience the process of grief.

Just as On Death and Dying taught us the five stages of death—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—On Grief and Grieving applies these stages to the grieving process and weaves together theory, inspiration, and practical advice, including sections on sadness, hauntings, dreams, isolation, and healing. This is “a fitting finale and tribute to the acknowledged expert on end-of-life matters” (Good Housekeeping).

Something Very Sad Happened

Something Very Sad Happened: A Toddler’s Guide to Understanding Death

by Bonnie Zucker

Something Very Sad Happened is intended to be read to two- and three-year-old children to help them understand death and process the loss of a loved one. Written at a developmental level that is appropriate for two- and three-year-olds, the story explains death; lets children know that it is okay to feel sad; and reassures children that they can still love the person who died, and the person who died will always love them.

Since the two- to three-year-old child cannot read, this story is intended to be personalized; certain words are color-coded in red to cue to you to substitute with the appropriate names and pronouns for the person who died.

Includes an extensive Note to Parents and Caregivers with more information about talking to children about death, guidelines for answering a child’s questions, advice for attending funerals and visiting cemeteries, and ideas for commemorating the loved one.

I Miss You

I Miss You: A First Look at Death

by Pat Thomas

When a close friend or family member dies, it can be difficult for children to express their feelings. I Miss You helps boys and girls understand that death is a natural complement to life, and that grief and a sense of loss are normal feelings for them to have following a loved one’s death. Titles in the sensitively presented A First Look At series explore the dynamics of various relationships experienced by children of preschool through early school age. Kids are encouraged to understand personal feelings and social problems as a first step in dealing with them. Written by psychotherapist and counselor Pat Thomas, these books promote positive interaction among children, parents, and teachers. The story lines are simple and direct–easily accessible to younger children. There are full-color illustrations on every page.