Dying: A Book of Comfort


Healing Words on Loss and Grief
Selected and with an introduction and other material by Pat McNees

We cannot reprint on this website any of the longer selections in the anthology for which others hold copyright. We have paid permissions fees to reprint that material, and such fees cover the print edition only.

Selections from DYING: A Book of Comfort

"I don't think people are afraid of death. What they are afraid of is the incompleteness of their life."
~ A 30-year-old man dying of leukemia, in Death and the Creative Life by Lisl Goodman

"The most I ever did for you, was to outlive you,
But that is much.
~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

"One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day was; one cannot judge life without death."
~ George Bernard Shaw

Leonard Matlovich, an Air Force Tech Sergeant who did three tours in Vietnam, later died of AIDS. Anger gives power to the epitaph on his gravestone in Congressional Cemetery, in Washington, D.C.:

When I was in the military
They gave me a medal for killing two men
And a discharge for loving one.
~ A gay Vietnam veteran


We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death.
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne



Thoughts on Life and Death

If I Had My Life To Live Over

I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax.
I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I am one of those people who live sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I've had my moments and if I had it to do over again, I'd have more of them. In fact, I'd try to have nothing else. Just moments. One after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I've been one of those people who never go anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had it to do over again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.
~ attributed to Nadine Stair, an 85-year-old Kentucky woman

If I'd known how long I was going to live, I would have taken better care of myself.
~ Attributed to Eubie Blake

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

~Anonymous

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Additional material, not in the book

T.S. Eliot, excerpts from Little Gidding:

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from....

We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.


When I am dead, cry for me a little. Think of me sometimes, but not too much. It is not good for you or your wife or your husband or your children to allow your thoughts to dwell too long on the dead. Think of me now and again as I was in life, at some moment which is pleasant to recall, but not for long. Leave me in peace as I shall leave you, too, in peace. While you live, let your thoughts be with the living.
~ Ishi, the last Yahi (1862-1916)
See more such quotations at Native American Wisdom (collected by Dee Finney)

Death has nothing to do with going away.The sun sets
The moon sets
But they are not gone.
~ Rumi

"Goodnight, sweet prince/​and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest"
~from Shakespeare's Hamlet

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What people have said about the anthology:


“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

“I travel around the country presenting programs on grief, loss, and working with dying patients and their families. It was a stroke of luck that led to my purchase of Pat McNees's book. Dying, A Book of Comfort has become more than just another book in my library. It has become a companion, a vehicle for bringing others into touch with the broad range of emotions that make up the process of grief. I tell my audiences that if they can only buy one book this season, it should be Dying, A Book of Comfort. For those of us who are called upon to impart words of healing and consolation, this wonderful collection will become the vehicle for instilling hope and understanding in those who seek our support. On a personal level, it is the book I keep at my bedside. It is the book to which I turn in my own moments of darkness.” ~ Judith A. Skretny, Life Transitions Center, educator for the American Academy of Bereavement

“This lovely book is a wonderful resource not only for the bereaved, but also for those looking to reach out to show love and provide comfort. The readings are thoughtfully selected with enough variety to capture any mood from rage to sadness to acceptance and hope. There's poetry, philosophy, dialog, and even a joke from Woody Allen. I've sent copies to a friend whose son-in-law died, to a colleague whose husband drowned, to a friend and his wife who just learned that the wife has untreatable cancer. It's an appropriate gift for anyone, whether a close friend or stranger.”
~ Sarah Wernick, co-author of Strong Women Stay Thin and Lung Cancer

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

“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

“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

"This is a wonderful gift book — better than flowers because it lasts longer. Once the company is gone and you're alone with your grief, the book is there to stay — and it's a great source of comfort."
~ Maggie Hudak

"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

"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

“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
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