Recommended Reading
and Viewing


Clicking on a title will take you to an description of the book and reviews. This is not an endorsement of shopping at (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
• 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)
• 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 Tσibνn'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
• Kόbler-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 Kόbler-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.
• 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).
• 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.
• 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)
• 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)

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

• 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 Ψyvind 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 6 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

• 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)

• 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."
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Films about aging

• 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.)
• 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.)
• 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.)
• 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.)
• 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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BUY NOW: Dying: A Book of Comfort


If you purchase anything after clicking on an 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). "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.

• Departures. A Japanese film about a very tender way to say goodbye.

• 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.

• 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.

• Four Weddings and a Funeral. A romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas.

• 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)

• 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.

• 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

• 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 before purchasing--it's not yet available on Netflix.)

• 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.

• 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."

• 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.

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)
• Harakiri (a classic Japanese film about samurai codes of honor and ritual suicide)
• 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.

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

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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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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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After Life. Radiolab stares down the very moment of passing, and speculates about what may lay beyond. What happens at the moment when we slip from the other side? Is it a moment? If it is, when exactly does it happen? And what happens afterward? A show of questions that don't have easy answers so, in a slight departure from Radiolab's regular format, they present eleven meditations on how, when, and even if we die. (Followed by some angry responses from listeners!)

The Beneficial Effects of Life Story and Legacy Activities by Pat McNees (Journal of Geriatric Care Management, Spring 2009). Get PDF file of journal article here (61.9KB)

Pulse: voices from the heart of medicine (personal accounts of illness and healing, fostering the humanistic practice of medicine, encouraging health care advocacy). See Pulse's archive of poems and stories.

Two movies you might want to see (both available on Netflix):
Departures, a film about a very tender way to say goodbye.
After Life, a film about deciding how one wants to remember one's life.

The town with the short life
"Yearbook photos are taken during a cruel time in our lives, when that single thing you're known for is enough to summarize you completely.

"Time passes and we become who we'll be, defined by our jobs, our families, our accomplishments. Who we were is still a part of who we are, at least to those who knew us when.

"As we move on, lose touch, we're sometimes happiest when we get some minor update about the people from our past. Enough to know they landed on the other side. Enough to touch up our mental portrait of them, and then forget about them until the next time."

That's one passage from the artful and moving interactive documentary (part essay, part scrapbook, part yearbook, part home video, part obituary), Welcome to Pine Point. Allow 15 to 20 minutes for this. Click on Welcome to Pine Point. Scroll toward bottom, click on Visit Website. (Or start here at Broadhead and click on Welcome to Pine Point.) Savor.
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