Monday, April 6, 2015

Books on the Dying Process

Everybody dies.

But not everyone thinks about dying.

These books provide an overview of the dying process and its many aspects:
  • emotional
  • social
  • legal 
  • spiritual  
  • physical 

While I am not planning on dying anytime soon, I would like a preview.  It's my habit to research elements of my various life stages as I move through them.

I've actually read almost 60 books on death and dying by taking a very broad view from getting the diagnosis, through illness, caregiving, death, burial / cremation and even beyond to the grief / mourning of loved ones.

I also have novels on my bigger list. If you would like to see the full list, see my virtual bookshelf on Goodreads.

This post is more narrowly defined.  I'm listing books in reverse chronology of publication, split into two categories:

Books by Doctors, Other Medical Personnel, and Chaplains 

Warraich, Haider. Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life. (2017) Review.

Egan, Kerry.  On Living. (2016)   Review

Volandes, Angelo E. The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care (2015).  Review

Gawande, Atul. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (2014).  Review

Lynn, Joanne, Janice Lynnn Schuster & Joan Harrold. Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness (2011). Review

Dosa, David. Making the Rounds with Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat (2010). Review

Chen, Pauline W.  Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflection on Mortality (2006).  Review

Callanan, Maggie & Patricia Kelley. Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying (1997). Review

Nuland, Sherwin B. How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter (1994). Review

Peck, Scott M.  Denial of the Soul: Spiritual and Medical Perspectives on Euthanasia and Mortality (1991). Review

Books by People Who Are Terminally Ill and Books by a Loved One Offering Support 

Danticat, Edwidge. The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story (2017). GR Review and Blog Review

Kalanithi, Paul: When Breath Becomes Air (2016). Review

Butler, Katy. Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death (2013).  GR Review and Blog Review

Schwalbe, Will. The End of Your Life Book Club (2012). Review

Hitchens, Christopher. Mortality (2012).  Review

Pausch, Randy. The Last Lecture (2008). Review

Rollin, Betty. Last Wish (1998). Review

Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie (1997). Review

A few of these books have a significant discussion of the spiritual aspects of being in the dying process. However, I have found an increase in books about spirituality and aging that talk about several challenges, including an increased awareness of one's own mortality. I have a separate post about called Books on Aging and Spiritual Growth.

I have found that those with cancer are overrepresented in books about the dying process, especially in memoirs.  In the books above, Kalanithi, Hitchens and Pausch are cogent enough to describe their experience as terminally ill people.

Nevertheless, I want to make a special note that Alzheimer's Disease is also a terminal illness that can have a long trajectory like cancer.  This gives the person with the disease and their loved ones a space for reflection that many lack when facing death.

I don't have books about the dying process for Alzheimer's Disease here because I have a separate post listing Books about Dementia. It's the caregivers who witness the dying process and can write about it.


Books about Dementia
Books on Aging
Films about Older Adults Active in the Dying Process
Books on Aging and Spiritual Growth


  1. Thanks for your list!
    I love Christopher Hitchens so I read his book. But I find the older I get the more I want to read books that focus on living. Or dementia---because you never know : )

    1. I had never read anything by Hitchens before (not even a magazine piece). Whoa. He took a lot of risks as a writer. Very intense and engaging! I get super emotional when I encounter new territory, so I'm hoping these books help me when the time comes for me or a loved one (but I bet I'll still be emotional!).

  2. Since I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and have had constant relapses, I have thought about my own mortality often. Thanks for the list.

    1. Holly: All my best to you and cyber hugs.

  3. Great list. Since I am caregiving for my mom who has Alzheimer's it is my goal to document the whole process beginning to end. I just hope it is a very long time from now!

    1. All my best to you and your mom as you travel together in your AD journey.