“When you know better, you do better.”
As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan didn’t offer sermons or prayers, unless they were requested; in fact, she found, the dying rarely want to talk about God, at least not overtly. Instead, she discovered she’d been granted an invaluable chance to witness firsthand what she calls the “spiritual work of dying”—the work of finding or making meaning of one’s life, the experiences it’s contained and the people who have touched it, the betrayals, wounds, unfinished business, and unrealized dreams. Instead of talking, she mainly listened: to stories of hope and regret, shame and pride, mystery and revelation and secrets held too long. Most of all, though, she listened as her patients talked about love—love for their children and partners and friends; love they didn’t know how to offer; love they gave unconditionally; love they, sometimes belatedly, learned to grant themselves.
This isn’t a book about dying—it’s a book about living. And Egan isn’t just passively bearing witness to these stories. An emergency procedure during the birth of her first child left her physically whole but emotionally and spiritually adrift. Her work as a hospice chaplain healed her, from a brokenness she came to see we all share. Each of her patients taught her something—how to find courage in the face of fear or the strength to make amends; how to be profoundly compassionate and fiercely empathetic; how to see the world in grays instead of black and white. In this poignant, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along all their precious and necessary gifts.
Garth Callaghan doesn’t know how long he has to live. But he can be certain of one simple thing: No matter his fate, his daughter, Emma, will find a handwritten note inside her lunchbox each day until she graduates from high school.
Cancer has given Garth Callaghan a new purpose: to inspire parents to connect more with their children even in small ways, as he has done before and since his diagnosis by tucking a napkin note into his daughter’s lunch every day.
Every morning as he packs Emma’s lunch, Garth adds a little surprise: a “napkin note”—a short, tender message to convey his love, encouragement, and pride. Garth began writing his napkin notes when Emma was in grade school, and as she grew up, his notes became more meaningful.
Shortly after Emma turned twelve, Garth learned he had kidney cancer. Determined to make the time he has left meaningful, he has compiled years’ worth of notes to get his daughter through her high school graduation. Now, in this moving book, a blend of inspiration and memoir, he makes his remarkable legacy available to all of us, to deepen our relationships with our own children and those we love.
GONE FROM MY SIGHT
Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience is well known in end of life education as “The Little Blue Book.” This was the first, the primary source, and remains the most widely used patient/family booklet on the signs of approaching death. It also contains Henry Van Dyke’s poem about death.
The biggest fear of watching someone die is fear of the unknown; not knowing what dying will be like or when death will actually occur. The booklet Gone From My Sight explains simply, with no medical terminology, the normal process of dying and stages of approaching death from disease.
Dying from disease is not like it is portrayed in the movies. Yet movies, not life, have become our role model. Death from disease is not happenstance. It doesn’t just occur; there is a process. People die in stages of months, weeks, day and hours. Having this knowledge will help address the fear of death and dying that most of us bring to the bedside of a person approaching death.
Gone From My Sight is literature used to reduce fear and uncertainty; to neutralize the fear associated with dying. It is designed to help people understand dying, their own or someone else’s.
Use this guideline while remembering there is nothing concrete, all is very flexible. Any one of the signs in this booklet may be present, all may be present, none may be present. For some it will take months for others only minutes.
The most frequently asked question I get from families is “How long?” Gone From My Sight will give as close and accurate an answer to that question as can be provided.
THE MERCY PAPERS
When Robin Romm’s The Mother Garden was published, The New York Times Book Review called her “a close-up magician,” saying, “hers is the oldest kind [of magic] we know: the ordinary incantation of words and stories to help us navigate the darkness and finally to hold the end at bay.” In her searing memoir The Mercy Papers, Romm uses this magic to expand the weeks before her mother’s death into a story about a daughter in the moments before and after loss.
With a striking mix of humor and honesty, Romm ushers us into a world where an obstinate hospice nurse tries to heal through pamphlets and a yelping grandfather squirrels away money in a shoe-shine kit. Untrained dogs scamper about as strangers and friends rally around death, offering sympathy as they clamor for attention. The pillbox turns quickly into a metaphor for order; questions about medication turn to musings about God. The mundane and spiritual melt together as Romm reveals the sharp truths that lurk around every corner and captures, with great passion, the awe, fear, and fury of a daughter losing her mother.
The Mercy Papers was started in the midst of heartbreak, and not originally intended for an audience. The result is a raw, unsentimental book that reverberates with humanity. Robin Romm has created a tribute to family and an indelible portrait that will speak to anyone who has ever loved and lost.
From Atul Gawande, a book that has the potential to change medicine – and lives.
Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming the dangers of childbirth, injury, and disease from harrowing to manageable. But when it comes to the inescapable realities of aging and death, what medicine can do often runs counter to what it should.
Through eye-opening research and gripping stories of his own patients and family, Gawande reveals the suffering this dynamic has produced. Nursing homes, devoted above all to safety, battle with residents over the food they are allowed to eat and the choices they are allowed to make. Doctors, uncomfortable discussing patients’ anxieties about death, fall back on false hopes and treatments that are actually shortening lives instead of improving them. And families go along with all of it.
In his bestselling books, Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, has fearlessly revealed the struggles of his profession. Now he examines its ultimate limitations and failures – in his own practices as well as others’ – as life draws to a close. And he discovers how we can do better. He follows a hospice nurse on her rounds, a geriatrician in his clinic, and reformers turning nursing homes upside down. He finds people who show us how to have the hard conversations and how to ensure we never sacrifice what people really care about.
Riveting, honest, and humane, Being Mortal shows that the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life – all the way to the very end.
THE BEST CARE POSSIBLE
A doctor on the front lines of hospital care illuminates one of the most important and controversial social issues of our time.
It is harder to die in this country than ever before. Though the vast majority of Americans would prefer to die at home—which hospice care provides—many of us spend our last days fearful and in pain in a healthcare system ruled by high-tech procedures and a philosophy to “fight disease and illness at all cost.”
Dr. Ira Byock, one of the foremost palliative-care physicians in the country, argues that how we die represents a national crisis today. To ensure the best possible elder care, Dr. Byock explains we must not only remake our healthcare system but also move beyond our cultural aversion to thinking about death. The Best Care Possible is a compelling meditation on medicine and ethics told through page-turning life-or-death medical drama. It has the power to lead a new national conversation.
An ICU and palliative care specialist offers a framework for a better way to exit life that will change our medical culture at the deepest level.
Jessica Zitter became a doctor because she wanted to be a hero. She elected to specialize in critical care—to become an ICU physician—and imagined herself rescuing patients from the brink of death. But when, during her first code she found herself cracking the ribs of a patient so old and frail it was unimaginable he would ever come
back to life, she began to question her choice.
Extreme Measures charts Zitter’s two-decade journey through multiple intensive care units in this country. Over that time, she learned that the technology that often saves lives can also increase suffering. And she believes that far too often, patients aren’t told that the extreme measures to which they’re subjected are unlikely to help.
Filled with stories from the trenches, Extreme Measures brings the reader into a world that most will only venture into during crisis, offering tools and guidance to navigate this often-treacherous terrain.