Books to help you make it through the night




BEST ADULT BOOKS ABOUT DEATH, DYING, LOSS, AND GRIEF

Clicking on a title will take you to an Amazon.com description of the book and reviews. This is not an endorsement of shopping at Amazon.com (we encourage shopping at your local independent bookstore), but Amazon does have an excellent database. And if you purchase a book after clicking on a link here, the site gets a small referral fee, which helps pay for the Authors Guild server that hosts the site.

• Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie
• Apple, Dennis L. Life After the Death of My Son: What I'm Learning
• Ascher, Barbara Lazear. Landscape Without Gravity (about her brother's death from AIDS).
• Athill, Margaret. Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir (about her experience with the end of life when, at 91, death is on the horizon)
• Babcock, Elise. When Life Becomes Precious: The Essential Guide for Patients, Loved Ones, and Friends of Those Facing Serious Illnesses
• Bastian, Sue and Mary Metzger. Fresh Widows: A Conversation (the book) and the blog. Great idea! Have mutual friends introduce you to a widow-buddy, a new friend who is going through what you're going through; you help each other re-enter the world as no-longer-part-of-a-couple, knowing without explanation what each of you is going through.
• Beauvoir, Simone de. A Very Easy Death (about the death of her mother)
• Bernstein, Judith R. When The Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter (Paperback)
• Blackman, Sushila. Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die (108 stories of the ways in which both ancient and modern Hindu, Tibetan Buddhist, and Zen masters faced the end of their lives)
• Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Close to the Bone: Life-Threatening Illness As a Soul Journey
• Bonanno, George A. The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss . Bonanno finds "little evidence to support the existence of stages of mourning or the corollary that if the stages aren't followed completely, there's cause for alarm. What Bonanno does find is a natural resilience that guides us through the sadness of loss, and grief, rather than distracting us, actually causes the mind to focus; it also elicits the compassion and concern that humans are hard-wired to offer in response to another's suffering." (PW review)
• Boss, Pauline. Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (about the sense of "frozen grief" that can occur when a loved one is perceived as physically absent but mentally present (because of desertion, divorce, or abduction, or because missing in action) or physically present but mentally or psychologically absent (because of dementia, mental illness, or other forms of mental or emotional loss or injury).
• Braestrup, Kate. Here If You Need Me: A True Story
• Brener, Anne. Mourning & Mitzvah: A Guided Journal for Walking the Mourner's Path Through Grief to Healing . Explores "the place where psychology and religious ritual intersect, and the name of that place is Truth." ~ Rabbi Harold Kushner
• Brodkey, Harold. This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death (the story of his confrontation with AIDS)
• Brody, Jane. 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
• Broyard, Anatole. Intoxicated by My Illness (critical illness, in his case from cancer, as a spiritual journey)
• Byock, Ira. Dying Well
• Butler, Katy. Knocking on Heaven’s Door. Part memoir, part medical history, an important, interesting, well-researched account of how medical technology aimed at long-drawn-out deaths often creates more suffering than it relieves -- and a passionate argument for a better way of death.
• Caine, Lynn. Being a Widow
• Callanan, Maggie, and Patricia Kelley. Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying
• Colby, William A. Unplugged: Reclaiming Our Right to Die in America (making informed end-of-life medical decisions)
• Doughty, Caitlin. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory. Her account of employment in a crematorium may persuade you that cremation is better than embalming, makeup, and the traditional funeral and burial.
• Davis, Deborah L. Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby
• de Hennezel, MarieIntimate Death: How the Dying Teach Us How to Live. A bestseller in France, this book by a psychologist suggests the power of effective palliative care. She recommends playing John Rutter's Faure: Requiem and other choral music for someone who is dying.
• DeVita, Elizabeth. The Empty Room: Surviving the loss of a brother or sister at any age (partly a memoir of surviving the loss of her brother Teddy to aplastic anemia)
• Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking
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• Edelman, Hope. Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss
• Eldon, Kathy and Amy Eldon Turteltaub. Angel Catcher: A Journal of Loss and Remembrance
• Elison, Jennifer and Chris McGonigle. Liberating Losses: When Death Brings Relief gives permission for the relief felt by many primary caregivers (especially spouses) about death after a long illness, or when one is released from a difficult or abusive relationship.
• Evans, Dale and Roy Rogers. Angel Unaware: A Touching Story of Love and Loss
• Finkbeiner, Ann. After the Death of a Child: Living with Loss through the Years
• Funderburg, Lise. Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home (a compelling and beautifully written memoir by a grown daughter—a white-looking mixed-race girl raised in an integrated Philadelphia neighborhood—who gets to know her dying father in a string of pilgrimages to his boyhood hometown in rural Georgia)
*****Gawande, Atul. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End “A needed call to action, a cautionary tale of what can go wrong, and often does, when a society fails to engage in a sustained discussion about aging and dying.” ¯San Francisco Chronicle
• Gerhardt, Pamela. Lucky That Way. As he nears the end of his life. Ernie Gerhardt, an artist and teacher, is largely estranged from his five children, but when he suffers a debilitating stroke... Gerhardt records a string of triumphs and mishaps as Ernie and his five adult children struggle to manage his life and find meaning before their time runs out.
• Gilbert, Sandra. Wrongful Death: A Medical Tragedy (about the death of her husband after entering the hospital for routine prostate surgery)
• Goldberg, Stan. Lessons for the Living: Stories of Forgiveness, Gratitude, and Courage at the End of Life
• Goodman, Sandy. Love Never Dies: A Mother's Journey from Loss to Love
• Grollman, Earl A. Living When A Loved One Has Died
• Gunther, John J. Death Be Not Proud (a young son's death from brain cancer)
• Halifax, Joan. Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death. Bearing witness to dying can teach innumerable lessons to the living—assuming we give up our tight control strategies, our ideas of what it means to die well. Stories of ordinary people facing their final hours with quiet courage.
• Hall, Donald The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon, an account of the happy 23-year marriage of two poets, her illness (leukemia and chronic clinical depression), and their peaceful creative life and many friends.
• Harris, Mark. Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial (why eco-friendly burials make sense)
• Hickman, Martha W. Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief
• Hill, Sheridan My Name as a Prayer. "n observant, wry, loving and at times sentimental memoir about caring for her mother, an irrepressible Charlotte charm schoolteacher, during the last year of her mother's life." ~Rob Neufield, Asheville Citizen Times
• Hill, Susan. Family (about the death of a premature child)
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• Hitchens, Christopher. Mortality (an unsentimental look at what happens when you die from cancer, as Hitchens did, undergoing every treatment possible and all the losses that came with that). See Colm Tóibín's review in the Guardian.
• James, John W. and Russell Friedman. The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith. By the same authors (with Leslie Mathews): When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses
• Jamison, Kay Redfield. Nothing Was the Same. The story of a midlife romance and marriage (she manic-depressive, he extremely dyslexic, and the difference between grief, madness, and depression. More about the marriage and dying than about widowhood and grief.
• Johnson, Hillary. My Mother Dying (with illustrations by her mother, Ruth Jones)
• Johnson, Fenton. Geography of the Heart (about the death of a gay partner)
• Jokinen, Tom. Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training. A CBC journalist's "month's leave to dabble in deathcare" leads to this light behind-the-scenes look at how the funeral industry, to compensate for a more cremation-friendly audience, is offering }new options (go green, go anti-corporate, go Disney, be packed into an artificial reef and dropped in the Atlantic...)."
• Kaplan, Robbie Miller. How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say: The Right Words for Difficult Times--Illness and Death (less expensive ordered from the author)
• Kessler, David. The Needs of the Dying: A Guide for Bringing Hope, Comfort, and Love to Life's Final Chapter (about the need to be treated as a living human being, the need for hope, the need to express emotions, the need to participate in care, the need for honesty, the need for spirituality, and the need to be free of physical pain).
• Kessler, David. Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms: Who and What You See Before You Die
• Kincaid, Jamaica. My Brother (account of her younger brother's death from AIDS)
• Klebold, Sue.A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy. Read the Washington Post review: 17 years after Columbine, the mother of one of the killers finally tells her story (Carlos Lozada, 2-13-16)
• Kowalski, Gary. Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet
• Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth and Ira Byock.On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families. Growing out of Kübler-Ross’s famous interdisciplinary seminar on death, life, and transition, this is the book that first explored the now-famous five stages of death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. How imminent death affects the patient, the professionals who serve that patient, and the patient's family, bringing hope to all who are involved.
• Kuhl, David. What Dying People Want: Practical Wisdom For The End Of Life
• Kushner, Harold S. When Bad Things Happen to Good People
• Latus, Janine. If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation
• Levin, Mark R. Rescuing Sprite: A Dog Lover's Story of Joy and Anguish
• Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed
• Lindquist, Ulla-Carin. Rowing Without Oars: A Memoir of Living and Dying (a brief, grim, and moving memoir of living and dying with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease--not an easy death).
• Lynn, Joanne and Joan Harrold. Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness (Center to Improve Care for the Dying). Very practical, covering all the bases.
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• Manahan, Nancy, and Becky Bohan. Living Consciously, Dying Gracefully - A Journey with Cancer and Beyond
• McCracken, Anne and Mary Semel. A Broken Heart Still Beats: After Your Child Dies
• McNees, Pat, ed. Dying: A Book of Comfort. Gems of comfort, healing words on loss and grief.
• McWilliams, Peter, Harold H. Bloomfield, and Melba Colgrove. How to Survive the Loss of a Love
• McPherson, Myra. She Came to Live Out Loud: An Inspiring Family Journey Through Illness, Loss, and Grief. A journalist's account of the "the nitty gritty dailiness of living and dying with an awful disease." (Read this to get a sense of the pain and problems such patients and families face.)
• Melinek, Judy and T.J. Mitchell. Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner. This unvarnished memoir of Melinek's experiences as a "rookie" medical examiner in New York City describes life as a forensic pathologist more realistic than CSI-type TV shows, describing the fascinating world of the forensic pathologist -- including a firsthand account of the events of September 11, the subsequent anthrax bio-terrorism attack, and the disastrous crash of American Airlines Flight 587.
• Mitchell, Ellen and eight other mothers. Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child (powerful book in which nine bereaved mothers share their experiences about what life is like after losing a child in their teens or twenties, including Ellen Mitchell, Carol Barkin, Audrey Cohen, Lorenza Colletti, Barbara Eisenberg, Barbara Goldstein, Madeline Perri Kasden, Phyllis Levine, Ariella Long, Rita Volpe )
• Mitford, Jessica. The American Way of Death Revisited. In this update of her scathing critique of the U.S. funeral industry, Mitford criticizes the up-scaling of cremation (to make it more profitable) and other deceptive practices, monopolies in the funeral industry, funeral directors' refusal to embalm AIDS patients, and so on.
• Morgan, Mary Rockefeller. When Grief Calls Forth the Healing: A Memoir of Losing a Twin In 1961, Michael Rockefeller, son of then-governor of New York State Nelson A. Rockefeller, mysteriously disappeared off the remote coast of southern New Guinea. This book is about how his twin dealt with that loss.
• Morrison, Blake. When Did You Last See Your Father?: A Son's Memoir of Love and Loss
• Myers, Edward. When Parents Die: A Guide for Adults
• Noel, Brook and Pamela Blair. I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One
• Nuland, Sherwin B. How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter (superb explanations of the actual physical process of dying and good on why and when to stop trying to rescue the terminally ill and to let them die peacefully and in less pain and discomfort)
• Oates, Joyce Carol. A Widow's Story. A memoir of sudden widowhood, after 48 years of marriage. Her remarriage a year later elicited strong reactions. Read Should Joyce Carol Oates have revealed her second marriage? (David L. Ulin, Jacket Copy, L.A.Times 5-15-11) and listen to Michael Krasny's interview with Oates, KQED (and read NPR's forum comments). (See also "The Widow's Story," about the death of her husband, Raymond J. Smith, in New Yorker (12-13-10, subscribers only).
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• O'Rourke, Meghan. The Long Goodbye: a memoir,m which Alice Gregory reviews for NPR in 'The Long Goodbye': A Syllabus For Modern Mourning.
• Picardie, Ruth. Before I Say Goodbye: Recollections and Observations from One Woman's Final Year
• Porter, Max. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers: A Novel A " book to cherish. It has the perfect balance of being very sad and very funny, full of darkness and full of light.”―Irish Times. The publisher calls it a novel. I would call it a long series of poems, sons' voice, father's voice (about death of his wife), and Crow's voice (grief).
• Rando, Theresa A. How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies
• Redfern, Suzanne and Susan K. Gilbert. The Grieving Garden: Living with the Death of a Child. Redfern and Gilbert reflect on their own experiences and tell the stories of 22 other parents whose children died at various ages and from various causes, from disease and accidents to suicide and terrorism. Organized in sections that mirror the stages of grief, from immediate reactions, seeking support, effects on family life and relationships, to integrating the loss into one's life and maintaining connections with a loved one.
• Riggs, Nina. The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying. (“Once I started this book, I couldn’t stop reading. Profound, absorbing, and often even funny, Nina Riggs’s memoir of living and dying is a meditation on life, family, and how to cram every day of our existence with what we love—no matter how much time we have left. Brilliant and illuminating.”- author Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project. See also Before I go: A mother’s hopeful words about life in its waning moments (Nora Krug, WaPo, 6-1-17), which grew out of Riggs's blog Suspicious Country.
• Rinpoche, Sogyal. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
• Roach, Mary. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (a funny, fascinating, informative book about what happens to our bodies after we're through with them, from embalming to decay to being used by plastic surgeons practicing their face-lift techniques--ideal gift for the curious reader)
• Rogoff, Irit. Terra Infirma (a searing recollection of his mother's life and her death from cancer, his mother "yo-yoing between smothering affection and a fierce anger")
• Romm, Robin. The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks (a young woman's raw unflinching account of losing her mother to cancer--with no sugar coating, as one reviewer puts it)
• Rosenblatt, Roger. Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt, which E.L. Doctorow describes thus: "A painfully beautiful memoir telling how grandparents are made over into parents, how people die out of order, how time goes backwards. Written with such restraint as to be both heartbreaking and instructive."
• Shields, David. The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead. Absorbing and delightfully informative account of what to expect from our gradually failing bodies, as we move from birth to old age and death. Surprisingly, not depressing--maybe because information feels like power.
• Singh, Kathleen D. The Grace in Dying : How We Are Transformed Spiritually as We Die. PW: "She is at her most perceptive when she seeks to explain why death is so frightening to us."
• Sittser, Jerry L. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss (about the transformative grace that can come even in the face of catastrophic loss)
• Smith, Rodney. Lessons from the Dying.Reflections, exercises, and stories of the dying from a monk who became a hospice social worker, with long experience of practical compassion.
• Staudacher, Carol. A Time to Grieve: Meditations for Healing After the Death of a Loved One
• Taylor, Nick. A Necessary End (about death of parents)
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• Vincent, Eleanor. Swimming with Maya: A Mother's Story (how the daughter's fall from a horse ended in organ donations--transforming a mother's grief)
• Viorst, Judith. Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow
• Waxman, Robert and Linda. Losing Jonathan (losing a beloved child to drugs)
• Westberg, Granger E. Good Grief: A Constructive Approach to the Problem of Loss
• Whitmore Hickman, Martha Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief
• Wiesel, Elie. Night (powerful account of surviving the nightmare world of the Nazi death camps)
• Williams, Marjorie. The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate (the last third is about her losing battle with cancer, saying goodbye to her family)
• Young, Kevin. The Art of Losing: Poems of Grief and Healing

11 Fascinating Books to Help Us Talk About Death and Dying (Allison Tyler, Off the Shelf, 10-22-15)
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"This is a special gem of a resource for those contending with dying,death, and bereavement. Through its expertly chosen material, Dying, A Book of Comfort informs, guides, and gently enables healthy grief and mourning. I recommend it heartily.
~ Therese A. Rando, author of
How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies

“The subject of death is so rife with terror that it takes a calm and sure hand like Pat McNees’s to soothe, help us understand, and finally, rejoice in life. This is an important and very dear book.”
~ Sherry Suib Cohen, author of
Secrets of a Very Happy Marriage

“A remarkable collection (331 pages) of quotations of comfort.”
~ Ernest Morgan, Dealing Creatively with Death

“Seldom have I read a book that exudes such comfort, such an embrace of genuine insight, care and support....The book’s gift, and it is a rich treasure for the reader, is that it embraces who we are.... The book can be read cover to cover, or just pick out a page. Something will leap off the page, a story, a quote, a reading, narrative couplings of diverse themes colorfully worded by the author/​scribe, to give you the needed word or embrace....This book needs wide circulation. The bereaved deserve this, and the book will help all of us.”
~ Rev. Richard B. Gilbert, director, World Pastoral Care Center, in Resources Hotline


"For those who face the lonely reality of death, this book provides understanding and much-needed solace."
~ Claire Berman, author of Caring for Yourself While Caring for Your Aging Parents

“McNees has provided a remarkable anthology of insights, comforting words, stories, reassurance, and guidance for the journey of dying and grieving. Fourteen chapters delve artfully and compassionately into a full range of dying, death, and bereavement topics. An index by author ‘Names’ and another by ‘Titles and Selected First Lines’ make it possible to return and savor the many rich offerings she has gathered.”
~ Rev. Paul A. Metzler, The Center for Living with Loss, in newsletter, Association for Death Education and Counseling

"Dying, A Book of Comfort is THE book to press into the hands of those you love, read out loud in the company of others, and reflect on after they have all gone home. Pat McNees gently guides us as we reluctantly explore the far side of forever."
~ Lynne Lamberg, author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health


Buy Now - Dying: A Book of Comfort

“A friend gave me a copy of Dying: A Book of Comfort when my son-in-law died. I passed it on to my grieving daughter, bought a copy for myself, and then bought five more copies, so I would have something meaningful and healing to give to friends who were facing their own or others’ deaths. We never know when death will come to those we love. This valuable resource deserves a place on everyone’s shelf as a compendium of thoughtful reflections — by famous and lesser-known writers — that affirm life even as they help us cope with death.”
~ Sally Wendkos Olds, co-author of Human Development


"A beautifully crafted collection of life-affirming passages from more than forty celebrated writers, thinkers, and religious voices of various faiths. These voices combine to speak eloquently to the heart of the reader about the nature of dying, and offer a way to provide words of Comfort for those who remain behind."
~ Ted Menten, author of the excellent book Gentle Closings


“...about dying and grief, yes, but more importantly, it is a book about understanding and healing. The deep truths and exquisite beauty will bring solace to many grieving hearts. A gem to be treasured.”
~ Rabbi Earl Grollman, author of Living When a Loved One Has Died

Children's picture books about death and loss

Many libraries will have these or you can order them online. If you order from Amazon after clicking on a link here, Amazon pays a small fee that helps subsidize the cost of maintaining this website. Also check out
How to Rest in Peace (This American Life, public radio program 11-2-07). here are umpteen TV shows about solving murders, endless whodunits in bookstores. But what happens to the people left behind after the detectives close the case? Three stories about children trying to figure out how to live normally after their parents have died.
After Charlotte's Mom Died by Cornelia Spelman (illus. by Judith Friedman) (for pre-school, about a child who works with a therapist)
Angel Catcher for Kids: A Journal to Help You Remember the Person You Love Who Died by Amy Eldon (spiral-bound)
Cry, Heart, But Never Break by Glen Ringtved, illus. by Charlotte Pardi (ages 4 to 8)
Davey McGravy by David Mason and Grant Silverstein (ages 6 and up)
Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch
The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story of Life for All Ages by Leo Buscaglia (ages 4 and up)
The Flat Rabbit by Bardur Oskarsson (ages 4 and up)
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (no age limit -- we just about wore our copy out, we read it so often)
God Gave Us Heaven by Lisa T. Bergren, illustrated by Laura J. Bryant (ages 3 to 7)
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers (ages 4 to 8)
I Heard Your Mommy Died and I Heard Your Daddy Died by Mark Scrivani (illus. by Susan Aitken) (ages 6 to 9)
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers (ages 4 to 8)
I Miss You: A First Look At Death by Pat Thomas (illustrations by Leslie Harker) (ages 4 to 10)
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst, illustrated by Geoff Stevenson (ages 3 and up)
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen (ages 5 to 8)
Little Tree by Loren Long (ages 5 to 8)
Love Is Forever by Casey Rislov
Michael Rosen's Sad Book by Michael Rosen and Quentin Blake (age 9, grade 3 and up)
My Father's Arms Are A Boat by Stein Erik Lunde and Øyvind Torseter (ages 4 and up)
My Grandson Lew by Charlotte Zolotow (ages 4 to 8)
Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie dePaola (for ages 4 to 9 and up)
Part of Me Died Too: Stories of Creative Survival Among Bereaved Children and Teenagers (young adult)
Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen, illustrated by Taylor Bills (ages 8 and up)
The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst (illustrated by Erik Bleqvad) (warning: expresses doubts about God's existence) (for ages 6 to 9 and up)
We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy: Two Nursery Rhymes with Pictures by Maurice Sendak (ages 4 to 8)
When Your Grandparent Dies: A Child's Guide to Good Grief by Victoria Ryan, illustrated by R W Alley (ages 8 to 12)
Where's Jess: For Children Who Have a Brother or Sister Die by Marvin Johnson (ages 4 to 10)
64 Children’s Books About Death and Grief
Consolation for Life’s Darkest Hours: 7 Unusual and Wonderful Books that Help Children Grieve and Make Sense of Death (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings) "From Japanese pop-up magic to Scandinavian storytelling to Maurice Sendak, a gentle primer on the messiness of mourning and the many faces and phases of grief."
And a little extra:
Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy

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Films about aging and elders

About Schmidt (a film starring Jack Nicholson and Hope Davis)
Advanced Style (Netflix: This well-put-together documentary profiles seven New York City women in their 60s through their 90s, whose snappy style decidedly disproves the notion that advanced years and glamour are mutually exclusive.)
The Age of Adaline (Netflix: After 29-year-old Adaline recovers from a nearly lethal accident, she inexplicably stops growing older. As the years stretch on and on, Adaline keeps her secret to herself -- till she meets a man who changes her life.)
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (To make the most of their meager retirement savings, a group of British seniors moves to India to live out their golden years at the Marigold Hotel. But upon arrival, they discover the once-lavish resort has wilted considerably.)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Netflix: David Fincher directs this Oscar-nominated tale of Benjamin Button -- a man who was born old and wrinkled but grows younger as the years go by -- with a screenplay adapted from a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.)
Death of a Salesman, the play by Arthur Miller. You can watch a DVD of the 1966 television adaptation, starring Lee J. Cobb, Mildred Dunnock, and James Farentino, or the Dustin Hoffman version.
Driving Miss Daisy, the film, starring Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, Dan Aykroyd, and Patti Lupone.
56 Up (Netflix: Since 1964, director Michael Apted has documented the fates of a group of Britons, questioning them every seven years about their lives and beliefs. Apted's subjects are now 56 years old, and provide perspectives that are frequently surprising.)
Fried Green Tomatoes, the film, starring Jessica Tandy, Kathy Bates, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker
Harold and Maude (Netflix: Hounded by his mother to get out and date, death-obsessed teen Harold would rather attend funerals. But when he meets the feisty Maude, a geriatric widow who's high on life, they form a bond that turns into an unconventional romance.)
Harry and Tonto (Netflix: Ripping a page from John Steinbeck's novel Travels with Charley, this bittersweet comedy follows an old codger named Harry as he takes a cross-country trip with his cat, Tonto, as a companion. The film earned Carney a Best Actor Academy Award.)
Life Itself (Netflix: Follow Roger Ebert from his school newspaper days to his status as America's premier film critic in this documentary drawn from his memoir. The film covers his rivalry with fellow critic Gene Siskel, his alcoholism and his personal philosophies.)
On Golden Pond, the film, starring Starring Katharine Hepburn, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Doug McKeon
Quartet (linked to Netflix) A trio of retired opera singers' annual celebration of Verdi's birthday sours when their estranged fourth member shows up but refuses to sing. Tensions rise and diva drama erupts -- will personal problems prevent the show from going on?
Savages (Netflix: Carrying the scars of an abusive childhood, Savage siblings Wendy (Laura Linney, in an Oscar-nominated role) and Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) -- a long-aspiring playwright and a drama professor, respectively -- now face the challenge of caring for their ailing father (Philip Bosco). Written and directed by Tamara Jenkins, this insightful indie drama explores the depth of one family's emotional disconnect.)
Strangers in Good Company (Netflix: When a bus filled with eight elderly women breaks down in the wilderness, the group of strangers is stranded at a deserted farmhouse with only their wits, their memories and eventually some roasted frogs' legs to sustain them. For several days, the women share their life stories and intimate thoughts. Director Cynthia Scott directs these nonprofessional actors delivering largely improvised dialogue to heartwarming effect. )
Tokyo Story (Netflix: An elderly couple in post-World War II Japan travel to Tokyo to visit their children but are received rather coldly by their offspring. In fact, the only person happy to see them is their widowed daughter-in-law.)
Up (Netflix: After a lifetime of dreaming about traveling the world, 78-year-old homebody Carl flies away on an unbelievable adventure with Russell, an 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer, unexpectedly in tow.
Waking Life (Netflix: Director Richard Linklater's animated film: A man shuffles through a dream meeting various people and discussing the meanings and purposes of the universe.)
Wild Strawberries (Netflix: Aging physician Isak Borg, begins to reflect on his life while en route to to receive an honorary degree. Along the way, a string of encounters causes him to experience hallucinations that expose his darkest fears, and he realizes that the choices he's made have rendered a life devoid of meaning.)
With One Voice (Amazon: With One Voice illuminates the unity of humanity through the single message and mystical tradition that binds all faiths together.)
Ikiru (Netflix: When a stoic government official (Takashi Shimura) in post-war Japan learns he has terminal cancer, he suddenly realizes he's squandered his life on meaningless red tape and has no close family or friendships to lean on, in this drama from director Akira Kurosawa. Resolving to use his remaining time wisely, he sets out to steer a children's playground project through the bureaucracy he knows so well.)
SEE ALSO:
Tara Sonenshine on Movie Portrayals of Aging (on Movie Mom). Commentary on four movies out in 2013: Amour, Unfinished Song, Quartet, and Still Mine.
Terra Nova Films ("Aging and elderhood" -- visual media that foster a new look at aging and elderhood)
Legacy Film Festival on Aging
With thanks to Harry "Rick" Moody, who ran most of this list in the Oct. 1, 2015 Human Values in Aging Newsletter, distributed by the Humanities and Arts Committee of The Gerontological Society of America. I would simply link to his newsletter, but it is not available online.
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FILMS ABOUT DEATH AND DYING, LOSS AND GRIEF

If you purchase anything after clicking on an Amazon.com link below, we get a small commission, which helps support the costs of maintaining this site. You can also rent the movies from Netflix, among other options (for example, many libraries have good video collections).

After Life (1999, available on Netflix). In the days between whatever killed them and the moment they're buried, characters in this movie are no longer alive but can still move and communicate -- only with the character played by Liam Neeson. This film got mixed reviews. "At a way station somewhere between heaven and earth, the newly dead are greeted by guides. Over the next three days, they will help the dead sift through their memories to find the one defining moment of their lives. The chosen moment will be re-created on film and taken with them when the dead pass on to heaven. This grave, beautifully crafted film reveals the surprising and ambiguous consequences of human recollection."
As It Is in Heaven. "Romantic and funny, this deeply felt ode to love is a roller-coaster ride of emotions," wrote Variety, and I agree. As a bonus, the hero of this lovable Swedish film is played by Michael Nyqvist, co-star of the movies based on the Stieg Larsson "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy.
The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasions Barbares). Set in Montreal, a man on his death bed invites friends and family, including a son from whom he is estranged. Much chat, and a moving ending.
Departures. A Japanese film about a very tender way to say goodbye.
Dying at Grace. One of five documentaries by Canada's Allan King. Not yet available through Netflix, which writes that it "follows the final months of five terminally ill cancer patients as they embark on their end-of-life journeys inside the Toronto Grace Health Care Center. As these patients -- three elderly women, a gay pastor and a former hell-raising motorcycle gang member -- face their deaths with mixed serenity and fear, they offer their experiences as a candid meditation on death and dying."
The Flat. When Arnon Goldfinger's grandmother died at 98, he was charged with cleaning out her Tel Aviv apartment, where he made a shocking discovery. The filmmaker plays detective as he sorts through decades of the Holocaust survivor's letters and photos.
Four Weddings and a Funeral. A romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas.
Harakiri (a classic Japanese film about samurai codes of honor and ritual suicide)
Harold and Maude. The unlikely romance between a death-obsessed 19-year-old named Harold (Bud Cort) and a life-loving 79-year-old widow named Maude (Ruth Gordon), who meet at a funeral--a strange, quirky, disarming, often funny, ultimately life-affirming film that went from box-office flop to cult classic in the 1970s.
Ikiru (To Live). In this classic Japanese film by Kurosawa, a civil servant, learning he has cancer, realizes he has nothing to show for his life and sets out to find something that will give it meaning. A beautiful film.
Isn't It Delicious? ("directly addresses the topic via a craggy and complex quagmire of fractured family relations when cancer is the looming cause of death. But it's also wry and amusing and ultimately faces death with a lyrical sagacity." (Huffpost)
Lightning Over Water (Wim Wenders' partly scripted, partly documentary look at Nick Ray's final days, dying of cancer). Writes one viewer "This movie can hardly be described as a happy film, but it is rare to see death addressed so honestly and with such care as it is in this movie."
Maborosi (Hirokazu Kore-Eda's haunting Japanese film -- slow in parts -- about the grief, doubts, and pain caused by a death, the circumstances of which are uncertain. Read the reviews on Amazon.com before purchasing--it's not yet available on Netflix.)
Places in the Heart (Sally Field won an Oscar for her performance as a widow in a Depression-era small town--showing how differently and more directly families dealt with death at the time.)
Taking Chance, HBO's gem of a film, starring Kevin Bacon. Based on Marine Lieutenant Colonel Strobl's simple and moving account of escorting the remains of Lance Corporal Chance Phelps home from Dover Air Force Base. Shows the dignified way marines, airmen, and sailors are escorted home to their families and loved ones. Based on Taking Chance Home
Tuesdays With Morrie, with Jack Lemmon and Hank Azaria, based on Mitch Albom's nonfiction bestseller. See also the movie based on Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Wit. HBO released this film, directed by Mike Nichols, starring Emma Thompson, and based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play -- in which the ravages of cancer (and brutal cancer treatment and insensitive medical caregivers) force a demanding English literature professor to reassess life and the nature of intellect and emotion.

And these as well:
After Life (which got mixed reviews) , a film about deciding how one wants to remember one's life. "This unpretentious, endearing film is a modest triumph. Based on interviews with more than 500 people about the one memory they would choose to take with them to heaven."
Death Flicks. Celebrating Life Before Death in Short (and Shorter) Films. (Life Before Death site)
The Cuckoo (Kukushka)
The King of Masks (a remarkable Chinese film)
Jacob's Ladder. Tim Robbins stars in Adrian Lyne-directed film about Vietnam Vet who thinks he's going insane.

The best films about dying (Vue Cinemas)
Death Films (documentaries, Programs for Elderly) links to documentaries you can watch online--for example, How to Die in Oregon
Films, Made for TV Dramas, TV Documentaries and Videos Dealing with Dying and Euthanasia (ERGO's annotated filmography)
Films that are not for the dying so much (Roger Ebert on films the living watch to help them deal with their fears)
64 Movies About Grief and Loss (What's Your Grief?)
10 Movies About Death You Need To See Before You Die (Audrey Fox, What Culture, 2-26-14)
20 Necessary Documentaries About Death and Dying (Nonfics--real stories, real insights -- you can sign up to receive reviews of new films)
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BUY NOW: Dying: A Book of Comfort

Stories of courage, inspiration, and other coping attitudes


Lyndon Baty and the Robot That Saved Him (Luke Darby, Dallas Observer News5-16-13) In tiny Knox City, a sick boy and his robot sidekick keep beating the odds. (Also a story about a rare form of PKD)
Remembering Harriet, the famous bald eagle that helped heal veterans wounded like her (Yanan Wang, Washington Post, 5-27-16). Harriet’s fans were struck by how her piercing eyes, round and eternal, inspired strength. “When I had some hard days trying to figure out how to get things done,” said one, “I looked that eagle in the eye and she would look back at me and say, ‘You wanna do it, you can do it.’” See video in sidebar: Harriet’s Story: One Eagle’s Impact (National Eagle Center). And read the memoir Wounded Warriors: A Soldier's Story of Healing through Birds by Robert C. Vallieres and Jacquelyn M. Howard. (Robert C. Vallieres struggled to find his “new normal” when he returned home after serving in the military. An accident in Kuwait left him suffering from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and internal injuries, leaving him in constant pain. Wounded Warriors is Vallieres’s story of self-healing from crippling “invisible” wounds through the help of birds. The problems of TBI and post-traumatic stress disorder do not have definitive solutions. His story of recovery offers a winged hope to thousands of military personnel who suffer these physical and mental battles.

To Walk With My Brother: A true story of courage, humor and love, a review of the book To Walk With My Brother: A Story of Courage, Humor and Love by Evelyn Thornton, as told to Michael F. Bisceglia.
A patient's story (wherein the surgeon. Murray Brennan, gets the Award of Courage, helping in the fight against cancer)
Philosopher Joanna Macy on How Rilke Can Help Us Befriend Our Mortality and Be More Alive (Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, 12-10-14) "I am not saying that we should love death, but rather that we should love life so generously, without picking and choosing, that we automatically include it (life’s other half) in our love. This is what actually happens in the great expansiveness of love, which cannot be stopped or constricted. It is only because we exclude it that death becomes more and more foreign to us and, ultimately, our enemy."
Faces of Courage and Hope: 16 Inspiring Stories of People Living with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia
Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book: 101 Stories of Courage, Support & Love
A Revolutionary Entrepreneur On Happiness, Money, And Raising A Supermodel (Nico Pitney, Huff Post, 2-23-15) A decade before Airbnb and Uber, Robin Chase helped kickstart the "collaborative economy" by co-founding Zipcar, which became the world's largest car-sharing service. The big idea was to enable convenient access to a valuable good (in this case, a vehicle) without requiring ownership.
The Incredible True Tale of "The Queen Of Neuroscience" and Her Nobel Prize (Nico Pitney, Huff Post, 2-19-15). “We are born naked, and we're going to die naked, so don't care about material things,” her mother told her. "Instead, follow your passion."

MORE TO COME
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Just plain interesting: Life in these crazy times


When your father is the BTK serial killer, forgiveness is not tidy (Roy Wenzel, Wichita Eagle, 2-21-15) A haunting story. How would YOU cope with this kind of discovery?
For Marine who urinated on dead Taliban, a hero’s burial at Arlington (Greg Jaffe, Washington Post, 2-12-15). A Marine court-martialed for urinating on the bodies of Taliban fighters has died more than two years later after a painkiller overdose. Hard to be judgmental when you know the whole story.
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10

Fiction about aging, illness, and dementia


An Absent Mind , a "riveting novel" by Eric Rill "about a race against time. The ticking time bomb is Saul Reimer's sanity. His Alzheimer's is going to be the catalyst that will either bring his family together or tear it apart."

Still Alice by Lisa Genova. Alice Howland, happily married with three grown children and a house on the Cape, is a celebrated Harvard professor at the height of her career when she notices a forgetfulness creeping into her life. As confusion starts to cloud her thinking and her memory begins to fail her, she receives a devastating diagnosis: early onset Alzheimer's disease.

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey. "In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also an heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences."

Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver. ""Codi Noline returns to the sleepy mining town of Grace, Arizona, to care for her father, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease....Her novel compares to those of Ann Tyler in its engaging people and message that is upbeat but realistic."~Library Journal

The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey. "A brave imagining of Alzheimer's." “Closer to Virginia Woolf’s meditative novels than anything else I can think of. . . . This is . . . Mrs. Dalloway prose.” —Carolyn See, The Washington Post Book World

The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner. Joe Allston is a retired literary agent who is, in his own words, "just killing time until time gets around to killing me." "A couple in their 70s reminisce about a trip they took in their 40s or 50s, and the until now unstated impact that the events of that trip had on them. The reminiscence draws them closer together, although neither admitted the extent to which the trip had drawn them apart."
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I use that phrase because more than once I have given people a copy of DYING, which they put aside and ignored--until, one night, grief kept them awake, they picked it up, and found it helpful. Clicking on a title here will take you to an Amazon.com description of the book and reviews. If you purchase a book after clicking on a link here, the site gets a small referral fee, which helps pay for the Authors Guild server that hosts the site. We encourage shopping at your local independent bookstore, but Amazon does have an excellent database.

• Albom, Mitch. Tuesdays with Morrie
• Apple, Dennis L. Life After the Death of My Son: What I'm Learning
• Ascher, Barbara Lazear. Landscape Without Gravity (about her brother's death from AIDS).
• Athill, Margaret. Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir (about her experience with the end of life when, at 91, death is on the horizon)
• Babcock, Elise. When Life Becomes Precious: The Essential Guide for Patients, Loved Ones, and Friends of Those Facing Serious Illnesses
• Bastian, Sue and Mary Metzger. Fresh Widows: A Conversation (the book) and the blog. Great idea! Have mutual friends introduce you to a widow-buddy, a new friend who is going through what you're going through; you help each other re-enter the world as no-longer-part-of-a-couple, knowing without explanation what each of you is going through.
• Beauvoir, Simone de. A Very Easy Death (about the death of her mother)
• Bernstein, Judith R. When The Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter (Paperback)
• Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Close to the Bone: Life-Threatening Illness As a Soul Journey
• Bolton, Iris. My Son...My Son: A Guide to Healing After Death, Loss, or Suicide.
• Bonanno, George A. The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss . Bonanno finds "little evidence to support the existence of stages of mourning or the corollary that if the stages aren't followed completely, there's cause for alarm. What Bonanno does find is a natural resilience that guides us through the sadness of loss, and grief, rather than distracting us, actually causes the mind to focus; it also elicits the compassion and concern that humans are hard-wired to offer in response to another's suffering." (PW review)
• Boss, Pauline. Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (about the sense of "frozen grief" that can occur when a loved one is perceived as physically absent but mentally present (because of desertion, divorce, or abduction, or because missing in action) or physically present but mentally or psychologically absent (because of dementia, mental illness, or other forms of mental or emotional loss or injury).
• Braestrup, Kate. Here If You Need Me: A True Story
• Brodkey, Harold. This Wild Darkness: The Story of My Death (the story of his confrontation with AIDS)
• Brody, Jane. 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
• Broyard, Anatole. Intoxicated by My Illness (critical illness, in his case from cancer, as a spiritual journey)
• Byock, Ira. Dying Well
• Caine, Lynn. Being a Widow
• Callanan, Maggie, and Patricia Kelley. Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying
• Colby, William A. Unplugged: Reclaiming Our Right to Die in America (making informed end-of-life medical decisions)
• Davis, Deborah L. Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby
• DeVita, Elizabeth. The Empty Room: Surviving the loss of a brother or sister at any age (partly a memoir of surviving the loss of her brother Teddy to aplastic anemia)
• Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking
• Edelman, Hope. Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss
• Elison, Jennifer and Chris McGonigle. Liberating Losses: When Death Brings Relief gives permission for the relief felt by many primary caregivers (especially spouses) about death after a long illness, or when one is released from a difficult or abusive relationship.
• Evans, Dale and Roy Rogers. Angel Unaware: A Touching Story of Love and Loss
• Fine, Carla. No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One
• Finkbeiner, Ann. After the Death of a Child: Living with Loss through the Years
• Funderburg, Lise. Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home (a compelling and beautifully written memoir by a grown daughter—a white-looking mixed-race girl raised in an integrated Philadelphia neighborhood—who gets to know her dying father in a string of pilgrimages to his boyhood hometown in rural Georgia)
• Gilbert, Sandra. Wrongful Death: A Medical Tragedy (about the death of her husband after entering the hospital for routine prostate surgery)
• Goodman, Sandy. Love Never Dies: A Mother's Journey from Loss to Love
• Grollman, Earl A. Living When A Loved One Has Died
• Gunther, John J. Death Be Not Proud (a young son's death from brain cancer)
• Halifax, Joan. Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death
• Hall, Donald The Best Day The Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon, an account of the happy 23-year marriage of two poets, her illness (leukemia and chronic clinical depression), and their peaceful creative life and many friends.
• Hammer, Signe. By Her Own Hand: Memoirs of a Suicide's Daughter
• Harris, Mark. Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial (why eco-friendly burials make sense)
• Hickman, Martha W. Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations For Working Through Grief
• Hill, Susan. Family (about the death of a premature child)
• James, John W. and Russell Friedman. The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce, and Other Losses including Health, Career, and Faith. By the same authors (with Leslie Mathews): When Children Grieve: For Adults to Help Children Deal with Death, Divorce, Pet Loss, Moving, and Other Losses
• Jamison, Kay Redfield. Nothing Was the Same. The story of a midlife romance and marriage (she manic-depressive, he extremely dyslexic, and the difference between grief, madness, and depression. More about the marriage and dying than about widowhood and grief.
• Johnson, Fenton. Geography of the Heart (about the death of a gay partner)
• Kamenentz, Rodger. Terra Infirma (a searing recollection of his mother's life and her death from cancer, his mother "yo-yoing between smothering affection and a fierce anger")
• Kaplan, Robbie Miller. How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say: The Right Words for Difficult Times--Illness and Death (less expensive ordered from the author)
• Kessler, David. The Needs of the Dying: A Guide for Bringing Hope, Comfort, and Love to Life's Final Chapter (about the need to be treated as a living human being, the need for hope, the need to express emotions, the need to participate in care, the need for honesty, the need for spirituality, and the need to be free of physical pain).
• Kessler, David. Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms: Who and What You See Before You Die
• Kincaid, Jamaica. My Brother (account of her younger brother's death from AIDS)
• Kowalski, Gary. Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet
• Kuhl, David. What Dying People Want: Practical Wisdom For The End Of Life
• Kushner, Harold S. When Bad Things Happen to Good People
• Latus, Janine. If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation
• Levin, Mark R. Rescuing Sprite: A Dog Lover's Story of Joy and Anguish
• Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed
• Lindquist, Ulla-Carin. Rowing Without Oars: A Memoir of Living and Dying (a brief, grim, and moving memoir of living and dying with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease--not an easy death).
• Lynn, Joanne and Joan Harrold. Handbook for Mortals: Guidance for People Facing Serious Illness (Center to Improve Care for the Dying). Very practical, covering all the bases.
• McCracken, Anne and Mary Semel. A Broken Heart Still Beats: After Your Child Dies
• McNees, Pat, ed. Dying: A Book of Comfort. Gems of comfort, healing words on loss and grief.
• McWilliams, Peter, Harold H. Bloomfield, and Melba Colgrove. How to Survive the Loss of a Love
• Miller, James, with Susan Cutshall. The Art of Being a Healing Presence: A Guide for Those in Caring Relationships (how to be present in a way that is healing, nourishing, and potentially even transforming)
• Mitchell, Ellen and eight other mothers. Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child (powerful book in which nine bereaved mothers share their experiences about what life is like after losing a child in their teens or twenties, including Ellen Mitchell, Carol Barkin, Audrey Cohen, Lorenza Colletti, Barbara Eisenberg, Barbara Goldstein, Madeline Perri Kasden, Phyllis Levine, Ariella Long, Rita Volpe )
• Morrison, Blake. When Did You Last See Your Father?: A Son's Memoir of Love and Loss
• Myers, Edward. When Parents Die: A Guide for Adults
• Nuland, Sherwin B. How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter (superb explanations of the actual physical process of dying and good on why and when to stop trying to rescue the terminally ill and to let them die peacefully and in less pain and discomfort)
• Oates, Joyce Carol. A Widow's Story. A memoir of sudden widowhood, after 48 years of marriage. Her remarriage a year later elicited strong reactions. Read Should Joyce Carol Oates have revealed her second marriage? (David L. Ulin, Jacket Copy, L.A.Times 5-15-11) and listen to Michael Krasny's interview with Oates, KQED (and read NPR's forum comments). (See also "The Widow's Story," about the death of her husband, Raymond J. Smith, in New Yorker (12-13-10, subscribers only).
• O'Rourke, Meghan. The Long Goodbye: a memoir,m which Alice Gregory reviews for NPR in 'The Long Goodbye': A Syllabus For Modern Mourning.
• Picardie, Ruth. Before I Say Goodbye: Recollections and Observations from One Woman's Final Year
• Rando, Theresa A. How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies
• Rappaport, Nancy. In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide. Haunted by the 1963 death of her mother, a Boston socialite, from an overdose when Rappaport was only four (the youngest of six children), the author tries to reconstruct what happened. As her brother asked: Didn't their mother know that she would leave all these shattered children wondering if it was their fault?
• Redfern, Suzanne and Susan K. Gilbert. The Grieving Garden: Living with the Death of a Child. Redfern and Gilbert reflect on their own experiences and tell the stories of 22 other parents whose children died at various ages and from various causes, from disease and accidents to suicide and terrorism. Organized in sections that mirror the stages of grief, from immediate reactions, seeking support, effects on family life and relationships, to integrating the loss into one's life and maintaining connections with a loved one.
• Rinpoche, Sogyal. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
• Romm, Robin. The Mercy Papers: A Memoir of Three Weeks (a young woman's raw unflinching account of losing her mother to cancer--with no sugar coating, as one reviewer puts it)
• Rosenblatt, Roger. Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt, which E.L. Doctorow describes thus: "A painfully beautiful memoir telling how grandparents are made over into parents, how people die out of order, how time goes backwards. Written with such restraint as to be both heartbreaking and instructive."
• Sittser, Jerry L. A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss (about the transformative grace that can come even in the face of catastrophic loss)
• Staudacher, Carol. A Time to Grieve: Meditations for Healing After the Death of a Loved One
• Taylor, Nick. A Necessary End (about death of parents)
• Vincent, Eleanor. Swimming with Maya: A Mother's Story (how the daughter's fall from a horse ended in organ donations--transforming a mother's grief)
• Viorst, Judith. Necessary Losses: The Loves, Illusions, Dependencies, and Impossible Expectations That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Grow
• Waxman, Robert and Linda. Losing Jonathan (losing a beloved child to drugs)
• Westberg, Granger E. Good Grief: A Constructive Approach to the Problem of Loss
• Whiston-Donaldson, Anna. Rare Bird: A memoir of loss and love. "I wish I had nothing to say on the matter of loss, but I do. Because one day I encouraged my two kids to go out and play in the rain, and only one came home…."
• Wiesel, Elie. Night (powerful account of surviving the nightmare world of the Nazi death camps)
• Williams, Marjorie. The Woman at the Washington Zoo: Writings on Politics, Family, and Fate (the last third is about her losing battle with cancer, saying goodbye to her family)

Conversations About Dying

We should all have the end-of-life conversation (Ellen Goodman on The Conversation Project). "Too many people are dying in the way they would not choose. Surveys tell us that 70 percent of Americans, for example, want to die at home but 70 percent end up dying in hospitals and institutions....Too many survivors, for that matter, are left not just mourning but feeling guilty, depressed, uncertain of whether they have done the right thing.... And we cannot wait for "the right time" because it will always seem too soon ... until it is too late." The Conversation Project, which she helped cofound, quotes Goodman in a WBUR interview about collecting stories about "good deaths" and "bad deaths": A good death? " I would say it’s, among other things, a pain-free death, and one in which you are not subjected to the kinds of aggressive care that you would choose not to be. We know that 70 percent of people want to die at home. And we know that 70 percent of people are dying in institutions, hospitals and, God help us, ICUs. So I would say a good death is dying in the way that you would choose, whatever it is." (Oregon Live, 7-15-13)
The Conversation Project (slow-loading when it draws a lot of readers, but helpful when you get there!) as my friend Artie puts it: "Their goal is to demedicalize death, similarly to how birth has been partially demedicalized by encouraging home birth and letting dads in the delivery room with video cameras" (not sure if the last one is an advance, but you get the idea). Different from "Death with Dignity" and doctor-assisted suicide because The Conversation Project does not agree on this issue and also because fewer then 1% will choose that route, based on experience in states like Oregon where it has been legal for a while. The project's starter kits are to help families or friends discuss what they want in a personal way. They are not supposed to be like the forms one fills out for doctors and hospitals (which are mainly intended to protect them from liability). There has been a lot of progress in the last five years. See Atul Gawande's book Being Mortal, a report by the Institute of Medicine, and a decision by Medicare to pay for end-of-life counseling visits (a big step from the panic over death panels when Obamacare was being voted on).
How to Talk to Your Doctor (or any member of your health care team) (PDF, The Conversation Project)
The Starter Kit (PDF, The Conversation Project)

How do you want to die? A mission to make death part of popular conversation (Lynn Sherr interviewing various experts, PBS NewsHour, 3-28-15) A growing national movement to normalize end-of-life discussions among family and friends has gained traction in recent months. As Medicare considers whether to cover such conversations with physicians, The Conversation Project, a Boston-based non-profit, is highlighting the importance of talking openly about dying. .According to a survey the group conducted, more than 90 percent of people agree, saying they should have The Conversation. But only 30 percent have done so. The Conversation Project says, nothing will change until people start talking about it.

First, Sex Ed. Then Death Ed. (Jessica Nutik Zitter, NY Times, 2-18-17) "Many of us would choose to die in a planned, comfortable way, surrounded by those we love. But you can’t plan for a good death if you don’t know you’re dying....The fact is that when patients are prepared, they die better. When they have done the work of considering their own goals and values, and have documented those preferences, they make different choices. What people want when it comes to end-of-life care is almost never as much as what we give them." And 80 percent of Americans would prefer to die at home, but only 20 percent do so.

Five Wishes. Changing the way we talk about and plan for care at the end of life. (Aging with Dignity) A living will that talks about your personal, emotional, and spiritual needs as well as your medical wishes--an easy-to-complete form that lets you say exactly what you want. The wishes: The person I want to make care decisions for me when I can't. The kind of medical treatment I want or don't want. How comfortable I want to be. How I want people to treat me. What I want my loved ones to know. See Sample document..

Prepare (English or Spanish and oral is available). Step-by-step instructions and forms to let medical and family caregivers know your end-of-life wishes. (Beautifully and carefully designed website.)

A Necessary Look at the End of Life in an ICU (Ellen Rand, Last Comforts blog). Ellen recommends three things:
(1) "a remarkable 24-minute short film, “Extremis” (available now on Netflix)," a relatively short but powerful film which "shows how the technology that can prolong our lives when we are desperately ill raises important questions about the difficulties in making decisions at the end of life."
(2) "The Waiting Room," a 2012 documentary about "the complexities of health care in the United States by focusing on the ER waiting room of a public hospital in Oakland, Calif., where a diverse -- and largely uninsured -- collection of patients seek care."
(3) The book Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life by Jessica Nutik Zitter MD.
To that I would add Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler. Doctors tend to overestimate by 5 to 6 times the length of time failing patients have left. As a result, important conversations do not take place and family members are unprepared and insist on "doing everything" to save the patient. It takes weeks, maybe months, to really absorb the reality of a terminal diagnosis -- people go in and out of denial, taking time to process the news. "Although most of us claim no desire to die with a tube down our throat and on a ventilator, the fact is, as Katy Butler reminds us in “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” a fifth of American deaths now take place in intensive care, where 10 days of futile flailing can cost as much as $323,000..." A "thoroughly researched and compelling mix of personal narrative and hard-nosed reporting that captures just how flawed care at the end of life has become."
When it Comes to End of Life Care, Don’t Fall for Magical Thinking! (Ellen Rand, Sixty and Me, 5-22-17) "In 1998, The Precursors Study, as the research is called, started asking the physicians in their 60s, 70s and 80s about how they wanted to die, with 10 possible treatments listed: CPR, ventilation, dialysis, chemotherapy, surgery, invasive testing, feeding tube, blood transfusions, antibiotics, IV hydration and pain medication.
With the exception of pain medication, the physicians said they would choose, in essence, none of the above. A more recent study from the Stanford University School of Medicine echoed the results of the Precursors Study: In 2013, it found that 88.3 percent of the nearly 2,000 physicians surveyed said they would choose “no-code,” or do-not-resuscitate orders for themselves. So, when you’re tempted to succumb to magical thinking, remember these physicians’ choices!"

The Charlie Gard story reveals what we won’t accept about medicine (Alheli Picazo, Maclean's, 7-18-17) Amid the crass politicization and the cruel false hope around the Charlie Gard case is this truth: We, as a society, refuse to grasp death. "... the push to assign blame and assume control over what’s ultimately a genetic tragedy speaks to a broad misunderstanding of disease and how it’s treated—and our stubborn reluctance to concede to the cruelty of fate....The fate of the child is not open to ruling; Charlie’s genetic disorder remains his death sentence....By and large, society’s grasp of death and understanding of illness is selective and flawed. Disease is presented as something to be valiantly fought against as opposed to professionally treated; when people die, they’re said to have 'lost the battle,' suggesting failure on the part of the individual for circumstances well beyond their ability to influence. Medicine and doctors treat disease as best they can, but not every illness can be remedied or managed—that’s not failure, that’s nature." A powerful piece.

Improving end-of-life care. Links to many helpful articles.
Zen and the Art of Dying Well (Courtney E. Martin, Opinion, New York Times, 8-14-15) "For someone who is dying, the past can be too complicated to contemplate and the future is jarringly unknown. Focusing on the present, Zen Hospice Project believes, is where the potential for living most meaningfully — even while dying — exists....Historically, neither private health insurance nor Medicare covers the cost of residential hospice care. One result is that when people don’t have a place to go or a care plan that’s realistic for their situation, they languish in their hospital bed, taking up a resource that the hospital cannot be reimbursed for." How the Zen Hospice Project does what it does.

Why is it so hard to discuss end-of-life care? (Liz Seegert, Association of Health Care Journalists, 4-27-15). Addressed to journalists, who are often over-optimistic, selling hope. Treatment is not always a good idea, death must not always be fought, and it's important to understand "the gray zone"--"the area between active living, when curative medicine is effective, and active dying, when funding for hospice is available."
Let's Have Dinner and Talk About Death (an interactive guide to having a conversation about dying).

The Other Talk: A Guide to Talking with Your Adult Children about the Rest of Your Life (Tim Prosch, AARP) Helps you address these questions and others:
Who will manage your finances and how will you budget for unknown needs?
Where can your children find important documents they will need to help?
Where will you live if you need assistance?
What type of medical treatments do you want--and not want--and who will advocate for your needs?
Wealthy parents fret over 'inheritance talk' with kids (Shelly Schwartz, CNBC, 7-22-15) A CNBC survey of wealthy parents found that many fret over whether the fortune they have earmarked for their heirs might stifle kids' drive, how much to leave, while others question how much they should reasonably bequeath and when to tell their kids about the financial windfall coming their way.

Ethnic Differences Thwart End-of-Life Conversations (April Dembosky, KQED, State of Health, 4-22-15) Virtually all doctors have difficulty talking to their patients about death, and those conversations are even harder when the patient’s ethnicity is different from the doctor’s, according to a study (No Easy Talk: A Mixed Methods Study of Doctor Reported Barriers to Conducting Effective End-of-Life Conversations with Diverse Patients by Vyjeyanthi S. Periyakoil , Eric Neri, Helena Kraemer (PLOS One, 4-22-15) Number 1 barrier: language and medical interpretation issues. No. 2: religious and spiritual beliefs ("It's in the hands of God, so don't turn off the ventilator.") Sometimes mentioning the word "death" is taboo because that might be tempting fate. Periyakoil recommends the Stanford Letter Project solution -- urging patients to write letters to their doctor, in their own language, in their own words, about what matters most to them about the end of life.
"The letter addresses some important practical issues that are not currently addressed in the advance directive document. It clarifies the patient’s stance on palliative sedation should pain and symptoms become refractory. Most importantly, it offers guidance to the doctor about what to do when the health-care proxy overrides the patient’s stated wishes. We created an app that uses the letter template to generate pre-filled advance directives. By answering a few simple questions, patients are able to complete both the official advance directive and the letter (as a supplement to the advance directive) and to send the documents to their doctors to be saved in their medical records." ~ from The most important letter you may write. See full section of helpful articles about and guides to writing such a letter.
Deficiencies In End-Of-Life Care Extend Across Ethnicities (Barbara Feder Ostrov, Kaiser Health News, 11-23-15)
The Stanford Letter Project. New research at Stanford shows that most doctors are reluctant to talk to their patients about what matters most to them at the end of life. Download a letter template from the Stanford Letter Project to help you write a simple letter to your doctor about what you want most at the end of your life. And give it to your doctor.

Death cafes and conversations about end-of-life concerns (links to several articles). At a Death Cafe people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death--a topic that too often remains in the closet because so many feel we should not talk about it...." talking about everything from advanced care directives to grieving rituals — it ends up being about not so much how we die but about how we live."
Let's Have Dinner and Talk about Death. As described in the Atlantic article Discussing Death Over Dinner (Richard Harris, 4-16-16). A nonprofit is experimenting with shared meals where participants are asked to grapple with their own mortality. Founded by a group of medical professionals and wellness experts "concerned about the disconnect in the American health care system between how Americans say they would prefer to die (at home) and how they actually are more likely to die (in hospitals or care facilities)." (quoting Sixty and Me)

Teenagers Face Early Death, on Their Terms (Jan Hoffman, Well, NY Times, 3-28-15)
Voicing My Choices A blueprint for end-of-life choices, for adolescents and young adults living with a serious illness--focusing on topics identified as most important by young people. Nothing in Voicing My Choices overrides the legal authority of a parent or guardian in relation to a minor child. The document simply helps the parents and guardians to make good decisions based on the wishes of the seriously ill young person. See Frequently asked questions
My Wishes (a booklet written in everyday language that helps children express how they want to be cared for in case they become seriously ill)

Larry King Is Preparing for the Final Cancellation (Mark Leibovich, NY Times, 8-26-15) Five years after CNN pulled the plug on his show, the TV host is thinking about whom he’ll book for his funeral.
Am I dying?-- The honest answer." (Matthew O'Reilly, TED@​NYC, July 2014). I highly recommend this brief transcript of a TED talk about how to answer that question (Am I dying?) when you're alone with a person who is clearly dying.
5 things you should know about end-of-life conversations (Megan Thompson, PBS NewsHour, 3-28-15)
• Atul Gawande, “Hope is Not a Plan” When Doctors, Patients Talk Death
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Atul Gawande). (from a review by Sara Nelson: 'Yes, “death is the enemy,” he writes. “But the enemy has superior forces. Eventually, it wins. And in a war that you cannot win, you don’t want a general who fights to the point of total annihilation. You don’t want Custer. You want Robert E. Lee... someone who knows how to fight for territory that can be won and how to surrender it when it can’t.” In his compassionate, learned way, Gawande shows all of us—doctors included—how mortality must be faced, with both heart and mind.' From the book itself: "The terror of sickness and old age is not merely the terror of the losses one is forced to endure but also the terror of the isolation. As people become aware of the finitude of their life, they do not ask for much. They do not seek more riches. They do not seek more power. They ask only to be permitted, insofar as possible, to keep shaping the story of their life in the world-- to make choices, and sustain connections to others according to their own priorities."
Choosing Not to Choose (Robin Marantz Henig, New Old Age, NY Times, 4-30-09) "What our mother confronts now is an impossible choice: an immediate, relatively low risk of injury or death during five hours of grueling surgery, versus the long-term risk — those 50-50 odds — of gradual disability and death over the next few years. On the one hand, she wants to avoid the scary operation and the harrowing recovery. On the other hand, she wants to do whatever it takes to live as long as she can. She knows she can’t have both."
JAMA Forum: Conversations About How We Die (Diana Mason, News@​JAMA, 3-18-15)

Hospice care and palliative care (links to resources)
Helping a dying friend.
Can Good Care Produce Bad Health? (Amy Berman, RN, The Health Care Blog, 8-15-12) "As a nurse and a senior program officer at a health care foundation, I understood my disease and my health care options well enough to make an informed decision about my treatment. What about the millions of older Americans facing a terminal illness or chronic disease? How can they possibly stand up to the juggernaut of our health system and say, “No. I want care that focuses on my goals, care that is centered on me.”
Saying Goodbye.
Statistics about death, mortality, long-term care, hospice care, and palliative care
What to say (or not say) to those who are dying or grieving (Helping a Dying Friend)
More stories about death and dying
Housing options for seniors and disabled (because sometimes you need information about various options)
Site Map (to find more links, information, and resources)
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