Non Fiction Books about Death and Dying, Life and Living
This section of the Poetic Endings Library includes non-fiction books written about life and living, and death and dying. Some are written by medical professionals about their experiences with people at the end of their lives, others are memoirs written by people dealing with terminal diagnoses, and some are about the process of grief from the perspective of counsellors.
We would welcome your comments and suggestions about additional works to include. Please send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preparing for death
Sometimes, death comes suddenly and without warning. Sometimes, there is time to prepare.
Mannix is a palliative doctor who has written a book so that death can become less of a mystery to those of us who do not see it as often as she does. Necessarily, the stories she uses to tell her tale are from her experience in hospitals and hospices and so there are deaths she does not discuss. However after each story, her reflections and questions are designed to fuel conversations between you and your family or friends which might be helpful should a death occur in a more sudden setting.
“There are only two days with fewer than twenty-four hours in each lifetime, sitting like bookends astride our lives: one is celebrated every year, yet it is the other that makes us see living as precious.”
We will admit that the title of this book is a little strange… If you have heard of Marie Kondo’s ‘The life-changing magic of tidying’ then perhaps it won’t seem quite as odd to you.
Magnusson is, in her own words, ‘at some point between my 80th and 100th birthdays’ and she has written a book to help you sort through your possessions before you die. She suggests that this both removes some causes of stress from your family after you have died, and also gives you more space to enjoy your most treasured things.
It is a slim, beautiful book with short chapters with titles including ‘What To Keep and What Not To’ and ‘It Is No Fun To Play ‘Hide the Key’ When You Have Hidden It From Yourself’ and ‘Unwanted Gifts’. Whilst the book seems mainly written for someone who is perhaps making the move from the home they have lived in for a very long time to a smaller property or care home, there is much wisdom to be gleaned from this little gem of a book.
Kate Gross died at the age of 36 having worked for two Prime Ministers, set up a charity and become a mother. Her book was written to give hope and purpose to the lives of her readers. She offers us all her thoughts on how to live; on the wonder to be found in the everyday; the importance of friendship and love; what it means to die before your time and how to fill your life with hope and joy even in the face of tragedy.
Medical advances we can, for the most part, expect to live longer than our ancestors. Death has been removed from most people’s experience, taking place in medicalised settings rather than our home. Gawande argues that in addition to how this affects how we feel about the event of death itself, it also affects our understanding of our own mortality.
Forrest Church was diagnosed with terminal cancer and recorded his thoughts on life, love, and death. The book is a collection of his writings, sermons he gave, and his thoughts following his diagnosis.
Paul Kalinithi was an eminent neurosurgeon before being diagnosed with terminal cancer. This beautifully written book, which was finished by his wife after he had died, will stay with you after reading it. The book covers the story of his life before his diagnosis, as well as during his treatment, and his thoughts on becoming a father.
Some people find some comfort in reading about grief as a process. There is no right way to grieve, and no set time line. However it can be helpful to know that you are not alone in how you are feeling.
Julia Samuel is a grief psychotherapist with 25 years’ experience working voluntarily and within the NHS. She writes beautifully and explains that in her experience it is not the pain of grief that damages people - but the things they do to avoid that pain. Regardless of how people grieve, she argues that grief is a process that has to be worked through. In each chapter covering a different type of loss (such as that of a parent, partner, child or sibling), she uses multiple case studies to show that people can deal with a loss that may look similar on paper in very different ways. Each chapter ends with her reflections, pulling together the themes or threads that have come up in that chapter. This book might be helpful to you if you are grieving, or if you want to understand more about grief, or perhaps to learn more about how to be a good friend to someone who is grieving.
This book is billed as a survival guide for hard times. Rentzenbrink does not claim professional expertise but she has lived through terrible suffering. Here she shares how she has learned to find hope and joy, without belittling the pain she has experienced. At the end, she includes a reading list that she has found helpful. The sections include: Comfort Reading, Books to make you cry, Mental Health, Death and Grief, and Harry Potter. This is another book I would pop in the bedside table drawer, to return to in times of need.
The bereavement charity, Winston’s Wish, have produced this helpful book on supporting children under 5 who have experienced the death of a parent or carer, though much of the advice would be helpful if young children were grieving the death of someone else to whom they were close. It is written and presented clearly, with practical ideas for ways to talk to children of different ages, and activities you can do together to help the child to remember the person who has died, or to explore their feelings.
This book discusses how young children respond to the range of loss they may experience, including the death of someone close to them. It offers guidance on offering appropriate support and more information on how children grieve.