Books on Death and Dying

The following is a (very incomplete) offering of books about death and dying.

On Life After Death by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

But at the time of transition, your guides, your guardian angels, people whom you have loved and who have passed on before you, will be there to help you. We have verified this beyond a shadow of a doubt, and I say this as a scientist. There will always be someone to help you with this transition.
—Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

A slim volume, this book contains four essays by Dr. Ross that share her life’s learnings from decades of working with dying people and studying thousands of near-death experiences. She describes the process of death from her perspective and maintains an adamance throughout that death isn’t the end.

Final Journeys: A Practical Guide for Bringing Care and Comfort at the End of Life by Maggie Callanan

This marvelously helpful book was written by a hospice nurse with a sense of humor and a huge heart.

Callanan explains the physical and psychological paths followed as someone dies, accompanied by surprisingly delightful anecdotes on the dying process. This book discusses issues ranging from Do Not Resuscitate orders to forced feeding, yet maintains a positive attitude. Scan the table of contents to see the book’s pathway through the dying process.

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley

“Nearing death awareness” was discussed in Callanan’s book Final Journeys; it’s the full topic of this book and encompasses the metaphors and seemingly curious statements that dominate the communication of the dying. Talk of taking trips and communicating with dead people are discussed with the care you would expect from two hospice nurses.

A comforting guidebook, this book aids in understanding verbal and nonverbal communications so that the needs of the dying can be attended to and more of the journey can be shared.

The Last Adventure of Life: Sacred Resources for Living and Dying from a Hospice Counselor by Maria Dancing Heart

This is a delightful collection of inspirational and thought-provoking quotes and short readings on the spiritual side of life and death from all flavors of belief systems. Its chapters divide the collection into major topics such as Truth, Joy, Awareness, Hope, and Grace. A wonderful read-aloud book to someone who is dying, this book is also a go-to spiritual resource for those accompanying that journey.

The Fun of Dying: Find Out What Really Happens Next! by Roberta Grimes

Summarizing a century of afterlife writing, this delightfully positive book resonated with me. Its emphasis on consciousness and love and forgiveness sets the tone for a good life that leads to a good afterlife. But as valuable as the text is, the bibliography may be the real treasure.

The Fun of Staying in Touch: How Our Loved Ones Contact Us and How We Can Contact Them by Roberta Grimes

A down-to-earth guide to after-death communication by a lawyer who had a childhood experience that sent her on a lifetime of thanatology. Grimes summarizes research across the spectrum, providing her own personal examples along with others from across the century. She points out the changes that have occurred in after-death communication as society’s own focus and values changed. A bibliography is provided.

Deathbed Visions: How the Dead Talk to the Dying by Sir William Barrett

This 1926 collection of tales was republished by White Crow Books in 2011. Throughout this book, dying people, often comatose, regain clarity and talk of the End Friends who have come to take them home, then they die with smiles of joy. There is no doubt about the comfort brought by those from the other side– or as one case refers to it, the other life. See my post about this book.

Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality by Judith L. Lief

Making friends with death is making friends with life, in the Buddhist philosophy.
This book has a wonderful chapter on the meditative compassion practice of tonglen.

The Art of Being a Healing Presence: A Guide for Those in Caring Relationships by James E. Miller and Susan C. Cutshall

Those volunteering to be on the No One Dies Alone phone tree are advised to read this book, and I can understand why. This slender volume surprised me with its insights on being a healing presence. Forsake your need to help and you’ll be a more helpful companion. Choose to believe, even when the person talking doesn’t. Do not persuade or even encourage, but instead hold a vision of the potential for wholeness.


Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms: Who and What You See Before You Die by David Kessler

Kessler is an associate of Kübler-Ross and shares her belief that loved ones who have passed on will come back to you at the end of your life to help you cross over.
This book is full of anecdotes that support the idea that no one dies alone; someone from the other side helps you with your transition of crossing over. A favorite quote of mine from this book is a patient stating, “Of course you can’t see her—she’s here for me, not you!”

Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

This is not the classic Ross book On Death and Dying. It’s an accessible collection of essays that provide different perspectives on death and dying. A few cultural differences are discussed, as are viewpoints from the dying and from those left behind.

The Shamanic Guide to Death & Dying: Meditations, Exercises, Rituals, & Ceremonies by Kristin Madden

Death is known as the birthing of the spirit and shamanic deathwalkers help guide the newly birthed spirit to the next world. This book teaches the shamanic view of death, including its tenet that the dead are not fully gone from us, and provides guided meditations for such things as moving through fear or connecting with a departed loved one.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Liberation Through Understanding in the Between translated by Robert A. F. Thurman

The actual Book of the Dead occupies only a part of this volume. The book opens with an introduction to Tibetan Buddhism and its perspective on death, including the process of death. Our “clinical death” is only about halfway through the process of death in Tibetan Buddhism.

The Illustrated Tibetan Book of the Dead translated by Stephen Hodge with Martin Boord

While Thurman’s translation is a masterwork, this version is a delight to read with commentaries that pierce the otherworld strangeness of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, making the prayers into meditations for the living.

Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities at the End of Life by Ira Byock, M.D.

A comforting, practical book of stories on the process of dying well, without pain and with the support of family.

No One Has to Die Alone: Preparing for a Meaningful Death by Lani Leary, PhD

A practical resource, this book assists the caregiver with the processes of dying and grieving, with an emphasis on caregiver self-care.

What books have you found helpful in dealing with dying and death?


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