A stack of books related to death and dying

Finding Solace and Inspiration in Books

When I started studying for my Death Doula Certification, we had piles of books to read. In retrospect, I could have purchased all of the books on an eReader, but it didn’t feel the same as curling up in a chair with a coffee and something more tangible than data on a screen. I bought a LOT of books. And even now – at any time I am reading spiritual or meaningful content, I want a physical book. I am a bibliophile in that way: I check the binding, smell the pages, and have bookmarks at my favourite spots in a book.

Here are some of my favourite books – for wisdom, inspiration or support when caring for a loved one with a life-limiting illness or approaching end-of-life for any reason, or for someone contemplating their own mortality. These books are written at varying levels of literacy and with a myriad of different “voices.” Have you found any books that have helped you on the journey “back home”?

( Full disclosure: the links below are affiliate links.) 

  1. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is an easy-to-read book that gives us all the feels about our most memorable teachers and mentors in life and the gaping hole they leave when they’re gone. Written in the first person, the author invites us to his regular Tuesdays with his favourite college professor, who is dying. Morrie dishes out practical wisdom for living well with just the right amount of humour.
  2. On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is considered to be “THE” book on death and dying. Dr. Kübler-Ross explored and was the first one to present the now-famous five stages of death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And while our thoughts on death and dying have expanded beyond this model, this remains one of the most important psychological studies of the twentieth century. Again, a very readable book with so much depth and insight.
  3. Is this next book about dying? No. Is it about death? No. Why is it on my list? This is Permission by M.H. Clark took six weeks to arrive at my house. It likely came from the UK in a cargo ship. In these days of instant gratification, it was an impatient wait for a book that I felt would help a lot of clients, and so far this book is coming through with flying colours. Many people try to be stoic in their suffering – whether they be the person dying or the person caretaking and holding the world up on their shoulders. They can’t or won’t share what they are really feeling, and stressful energy builds up and creates a new and unwanted dynamic among people who love each other deeply. This is Permission is really a book of affirmations – you have permission to be angry, to not have a good day, to make a mess, to be honest. I have seen my clients visibly relax and listen intently as I read the series of simple, eloquent affirmations to them. I recommend this book as a support for opening up conversations and understanding.
  4. Dying Well by Dr. Ira Byock was one of the best books that I read during my certification studies. 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. I learned so much from this book and often had to put it down just to contemplate what I had read.
  5. Awake at the Bedside was a book that I found difficult to get into initially, and then became another favourite book about dying and holding vigil. A compilation of work from a great many contributors – including doctors, chaplains, monks, caregivers and poets, Awake at Bedside offers us so many ways to be present at bedside – to truly accompany another person at the end of their life. I felt “peaceful” reading this book, as well as deeply moved. It’s a bit of a heavier read than some, but well worth it. 

In a future blog, I will share with you some of my favourite movies on dying and death – from comedies to documentaries. Stay tuned!

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