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I started this site as a supplement to my anthology, Dying: A Book of Comfort, which was published to help both people who were dying and those who care for and survive them and who (like the dying) have to deal with grief. Then my friend Harold, whose heart was in lousy shape, read the book (a dozen years before his death) and told me he was much less anxious about dying after reading it. What bothered him more than fear of dying were the multiple chronic conditions that came with aging, which made life more difficult than it used to be. And then there were the caregivers -- they needed help too. And the people with conditions like cancer (once a death notice) now had (along with the consequences of treatment) chronic conditions to deal with. So this site has expanded in directions the original website title (Dying: A Book of Comfort) didn't fit and I'm not sure the new title is a big improvement (suggestions welcome). Technology, altruism, curiosity, and obsessive behavior have made the site grow way beyond what I have time for. As time becomes available, I'll try to make it more presentable. Meanwhile, explore. This is mainly a gateway to information that can help you, sometimes in powerful ways. On this page you will find
Books to help you make it through the night
More about DYING: A Book of Comfort

Reviews and praise:

"Although I’m not ready to admit it, my father is dying. As cancer takes over his body, we sit together – talking, enjoying the garden, and watching old movies. I’m trying to get a handle on the situation and how I feel about it, but my emotions are a tangled, jumbled mess. All at once I feel isolation, profound sadness, panic, anxiety, anger, frustration, helplessness, fatigue, and, ironically, occasional joy and humor.

"When I set out to review Dying: A Book of Comfort, I worried that I might be too close to the topic. But as I read passages in this anthology, my mixed feelings began to come into focus. I realized that perhaps I’m just the kind of person who should be reviewing a book like this. Read straight through, Dying: A Book of Comfort was a spiritual exercise for me. Some chapters let me look at dying from my father’s perspective. Other chapters simply gave me the perspective of people who have been through this before me and my family.

“Pat McNees’s collection contains carefully selected and ordered pieces – poems, prayers, prose, and fiction. The anthology explores a range of experiences: living when you know you are dying; caring for and about someone who is dying; saying goodbye; and dealing with how it feels to be left behind. When Pat was talking with publishers about printing a bookstore version, some told her it should be a book either about dying or about grieving, but Pat saw them as part of a continuum.

“If read straight through, the book’s structure allows the reader to move through the process of dying and grieving in an arc, starting with ‘Illness as Awakening.’ Following chapters examine how people who are dying, as well as their loved ones, experience the process of dying and saying goodbye. The apex of the arc is death itself, with chapters including views on immortality and prayer. The book then moves into the ‘Journey Through Grief.’ What follows are chapters devoted to mourning the loss of a child, parent, or spouse, and to grieving a sudden death or suicide. The closing chapters have their focus on death’s aftermath – the remembering, for example, or the other ways we deal with the ongoingness of this greatest of all losses.

“McNees has kept her selections fairly short. The brevity of the passages, and their concrete relevance to the topic at hand, make the book very reader-friendly. These characteristics reflect the advice of grief counselor Kathleen Braza, who has found that people who are grieving generally can’t read long passages or process symbolism.

“The first time I read this book, I jumped around, the way I usually read a book of poetry. I’d read a passage here and there, periodically finding one that rang very true for me. Beyond being a personal comfort to me, I found the book to be an excellent resource. I’m often at a loss for words when talking with or writing to someone who is grieving. In its pages I have found just the right passage to share with friends of mine who have lost a mother, a husband, a son.

“While McNees didn’t set out to write a spiritual book, she has created a volume that speaks to the heart. Written after her father’s death, her goal in working on this project was to create a book that would help people through the process of death and grieving. Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of Hospice, says of Pat’s book, ‘This remarkable collection, coming from personal experience and wide reading, will help many find the potential of growth through loss.’

Dying: A Book of Comfort would make a thoughtful gift for a family or individual coping with terminal illness, someone who is grieving, or people who work with dying or bereaved. My copy has already become dog-eared and annotated, as it travels with me to visit my father. Thanks, Pat, for the words of comfort."

~ Eileen Hanning’s review, for Signature, the newsletter of the Women’s National Book Association, DC chapter

Buy it now.

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)

Dying: A Book of Comfort
(healing words on loss and grief)

“This remarkable collection, coming from personal experience and wide reading, will help many
find the potential of growth through loss.” ~ Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice movement
One of "100 Books Recommended by Doctors"
in Washingtonian magazine

"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

“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

I was originally asked to do this book by Barbara Greenman, editor of Doubleday's Literary Guild book club. Her long-time friend was dying and she wanted to know how best to help--wanted something positive. My experience helping my father when he was dying from lung cancer had made me realize that there was little help available for people trying to do this on their own. Hospices are wonderful, in my personal experience, but they aren't there late at night when you're on your own and flying blind. So this project was a labor of love for both Barbara and me.

Nobody teaches us how to die, or how to help someone die; nor how to grieve, or how best to help the grieving. My emphasis in collecting material for this anthology was on the emotional, not the practical, aspects of death and grieving. I looked for selections that offer meaningful insights and experiences, comforting words and stories, some guidance, much reassurance.

This is not a how-to book, but I chose selections around several basic themes: the intensity with which life is experienced by people who are dying (and those who help them die), what it is like (emotionally) to die, how to help someone die, how to say good-bye,what to expect from grief, and how to console the bereaved. There are special sections on mourning the death of a parent, the death of a child, a death by suicide, or a violent, unexpected death. There are selections about near-death experiences, about life after death, and about life and death. There are prayers from many faiths as well as selections to comfort those with no religious faith. There are also selections suitable for reading at funerals and memorial services. All of the selections are short, because people who are grieving (including people who are dying) are often unable to concentrate on anything long.

This book was first published as a Literary Guild original, in an edition so lovely that both Barbara and the art director felt that of all the books they had worked on, this was the one they were proudest of. (You can't imagine how rare an experience this is for an author.) The Guild edition was not available in bookstores. Warner Books brought out a trade paperback edition, which was available in bookstores, and which adapted the original Guild design to a slightly larger format.

Frankly, although the book was fine in its paperback format, it wasn't as perfect a gift book, and as my Warner editor pointed out, Warner did not specialize in "back list" titles (those that sell quietly, year after year). When the Warner edition went out of print, the Guild agreed to print a special edition, because I was getting e-mails of frustration from people who were used to buying copies of the book to have on hand for when a friend experienced a death in the family. I am happy to report that the original Guild hardcover edition, with the lovely jacket (a soft yellow matte finish, with a small shining work of art, a bridge across water, center front), is now available again. The content is the same in both books. I have copies of both the paperback and the Guild hardcover for sale, but personally, I prefer the Guild edition.

The cover art is The White Bridge by John Henry Twachtman, courtesy of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Contents (Dying: A Book of Comfort)

A partial list of contributors

Nanna Tanier, creative supervisor of the Doubleday book clubs by which DYING was first published, wrote: "I grew ever more surprised while reading Dying, A Book of Comfort. I was expecting depressing or clichéd material, but I found, instead, thoughtful, peaceful, even inspiring passages on this difficult subject. Pat McNees has helpfully organized specific topics in each chapter -- from the experience of dying to saying good-bye, to mourning a parent or child, to the journey through grief. There is even a sensitive chapter on mourning a suicide or sudden death. Additionally, there is a chapter of “Prayers in Many Voices,” where regardless of faith, you will find passages that truly speak to, and comfort you. Of the books I have designed, this is the one I am most proud of. I have given it to family and friends, all of whom have found comfort and peace in its pages."

I am happy that the lovely edition for which Nanna was art director (Debbie Glasserman was designer) is now back in print.