We have included ten of our favorite books on death and dying, representing a variety of spiritual traditions. We particularly recommend books that focus on the issues before death.
Shaman, Healer, Sage
by Alberto Villoldo. 2000. The author, a classically trained medical anthropologist and the founder of Dying Consciously: The Greatest Journey, studied shamanic healing techniques among the descendants of the ancient Inkas for more than twenty years. He draws upon his vast body of knowledge to create a practical and revolutionary program based on the traditional healing methods used by these shamans; methods that, until now, have been inaccessible to most of the world. The death rites of the indigenous peoples of the Andes are included.
Dying, A Natural Passage
by Denys Cope. 2008. This is a beside manual for being present with the dying. This small guidebook provides practical and insightful information about such rarely addressed topics as: What best supports a peaceful death? When is it time to call in hospice? Are people hallucinating at the end of life? The author, a hospice nurse, helps the reader recognize the various the stages of dying.
A Year to Live
by Stephen Levine. 1997. The author teaches us how to live each moment, each hour, each day mindfully - as if it were all that was left. On his deathbed, Socrates exhorted his followers to practice dying as the highest form of wisdom. Levine decided to live this way himself for a whole year, and in this book he shares with us how such immediacy can radically change our view of the world and force us to examine our priorities. Levine provides us with a year-long program of intensely practical strategies and powerful guided meditations.
No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh. 2002. With hard-won wisdom and refreshing insight, Thich Nhat
Hanh confronts a subject that has been contemplated by Buddhist monks and nuns
for twenty-five-hundred years. What is death? This wise teacher and exquisite poet
examines our concepts of death, fear, and the very nature of existence. Through
Zen parables, guided meditations, and personal stories, he explodes traditional
myths of how we live and die. Thich Nhat Hanh shows us a way to live a life
unfettered by fear.
Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life
by Megory Anderson. 2003. Sacred Dying is theologian
Megory Anderson’s essential testimonial and handbook for creating a dignified,
peaceful, and more sacred end to life. Her advice is practical and reflects the
diversity of her experience with the dying. The author includes a section of prayers and poems
from various traditions, and shows how to use personalized and creative rituals
to help those dying and their loved ones find acceptance and
reconciliation. The paperback
edition includes a chapter on what can be done after death to help move
the soul along.
The End of Your Life Book Club
Will Schwalbe. 2012. “What are you reading?” That’s the question the author asks his mother as they sit in the waiting room of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer
Center. This is the inspiring true
story of a son and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together
as her life comes to a close. Over a two-year period they carry on
conversations that are both wide-ranging and deeply personal, prompted by an
eclectic array of books and their shared passion for reading. For them reading isn’t the opposite of
doing; it’s the opposite of dying.
The Final Crossing: Learning to Die in Order to Live
by Scott Eberle. 2006. The
author, a hospice physician, captures the experience of death
from two worlds. This personal account recalls "the final crossing"
of Steven Foster, a pioneer in the field of rites of passage who founded the
School of Lost Borders. Interspersed with Steven’s story is the author’s experience as his
hospice doctor. The book also incorporates a sweeping historical view of the convergence of the rites of passage and hospice movements.
The Four Things that Matter Most: A Book About Living
by Ira R. Byock. 2004. The
author, a leader in palliative care, suggests that the four
simple phrases "Please forgive me," "I forgive you,"
"Thank you," and "I love you" carry enormous power. The
author shows ushow they provide a clear path to emotional wellness; they
guide us through the thickets of interpersonal difficulties to a conscious way
of living full of integrity and grace. Byock’s insights and stories
help us to forgive, appreciate, love, and celebrate one another more fully.
They also show that a degree of emotional healing is always possible and that
we can experience a sense of wholeness even in the wake of family strife,
personal tragedy, divorce, or in the face of death.
The Pagan Book of Living and Dying: Practical Rituals, Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations on Crossing Over
by Starhawk, M. Macha Nightmare, and the Reclaiming Collective. 1997. Birth, growth, death, and rebirth are a cycle that forms the underlying order of the universe. This is the core belief in this unique resource guide to death and the process of dying. The authors provide practical rituals with prayers, chants, blessings, meditations, essays, and insightful personal stories that offer a new understanding of death and a powerful approach to the various stages of dying and grieving.
The Ultimate Journey: Consciousness and the Mystery of Death
by Stanislav Grof. 2006. The author describes ancient and aboriginal ritual and spiritual practices that help us understand the experience of death, develop effective ways of making dying easier, and integrate it as a meaningful part of life. The book also summarizes modern studies that shed new light on a variety of phenomena related to death and dying, including psycho-spiritual death and rebirth, near-death experiences, and the new expanded cartography of the psyche that has emerged from Grof’s fifty years of research in psychedelic therapy, Holotropic Breathwork, and spontaneous psycho-spiritual crises.