The coldest people I know are those surrounded by death. I have spoken with many of them over the years: dying doulas, hospices, embalmers; eco-casket designers, grief counselors and country farmers; who are all facing their inevitable disappearance. They all taught me something different about death and death, but they also made me realize a similar point: death doesn’t have to be that weird egg that gets cracked on your head. unexpectedly. Death – rather dying – is a process, and that process is what you make of it.
One of my first college writing gigs was about death (which is why I’m on this coffin-shaped soapbox in the first place). I worked freelance for an end-of-life planning company in San Francisco, which was partly a handy, local resource for what to do after the death of a loved one, and partly a death blog ( it was my jam). We’ve always made sure not to simmer death and death-related topics in ghoulish ways – the landing page was sky blue, and blog posts ranged from DIY commemorating loved ones to learning more about the ballot boxes. biodegradable. Why the hell they let a 19 year old with no knowledge of funeral homes write for them is beyond me, but I’m so glad they did. I’ve learned that when you’re surrounded by death all the time, it doesn’t feel so alien and unseaworthy. Of course, those who work in the death industry do not magically become exempt from the emotional demands of death, and having the time and resources to live well and die is a privilege. But in the years I’ve spent learning estate planning or talking to home health aides about what you can do literally moments after a loved one has passed away to find some peace, I learned that dying well is like living well: you harvest what you sow.
So where to start ? Books. Read what other people have experienced in hospitals, at home, or with their own existential crises. While the titles below aren’t a definitive guide to dying and end-of-life planning, they are the ones that helped me feel more prepared to dance in the void.
No one kills like the French
Simone de Beauvoir is a * chef’s kiss * great Frenchy to hold your hand through the subject of death. It is one of the author’s most beloved books of the 1960s, and it takes you through the experience of his mother’s death with a keen sensitivity to detail; it’s Beauvoir’s talent for focusing on the most “mundane” moments of terminal illness and dying with philosophical panache that makes him so good.
Find out what doctors think about patient care
This one reads like a diary, if diaries were very specific indicators written by medical professionals. Author and physician Ira Byock is a hospice palliative care physician, and seeing the progress and pitfalls of her end-of-life care experiences tells you a lot about the types of questions you’ll want to ask when / if you do. find one day. navigate similar situations and medical institutions. It’s the kind of book that makes you feel like you have someone by your side, even when faced with intimidating health issues.
Yes, there are end of life doulas
We generally think of doulas to be caring granola people who help bring little babies into this world, but there are also doulas and death midwives who are trained to accompany those who die and bring them into the world. whatever comes next. I have spoken with many of them over the years, but this book is actually from a friend who has just started a career in end-of-life care. “I chose this book to learn more about reclaiming the care of death as a sacred, holistic and intimate practice,” she told me, saying she would absolutely suggest this book to those who might see themselves in a similar profession, or just want to learn more about the above.
There is room for creativity
Overall, I think the United States has this knee-jerk reaction to sterilize the processes of death and dying. We demand our funeral ceremonies with a sort of uniformity and sadness, which is right. Death is hard and everyone grieve differently. Corn, guy. Have you ever seen the coffins in Ghana? They are beautiful and personal. A truly festive labor of love.
Raise your hand if you got daddy trouble
A tough read, but a super cathartic memoir by Jesmyn Ward for anyone who has lost a loved one at a young age, or who is walking a tightrope in their relationship with their parents. The book follows the author’s relationships with five different people in this sense, and it’s also a powerful portrayal of what it means to live and cry as a black person in the southern United States.
Bloomsbury United States
It’s a way to cope
We’ve all experienced it, or seen it happen to someone else: rather than facing our grief, we devote ourselves to a new hobby or time-consuming quest (cc: all those sourdough breads quarantine). And that’s OK. There is no timeline set in stone for mourning, and this memoir by Long Litt Woon, written about her late husband, is an excellent reminder of that; it’s all the curious, dark, and beautiful places our grief can take us away, like mushroom hunting. “Long tells the story of finding hope after despair with lightness and art”, writes the New York Times in a review that I think really hits the nail on the head. “[She writes with] self-effacement and so much sweet kindness that we’ve forgotten how sad she (and we) are. Then, like the narrator, we remember. But guess what? We’re still in one piece.
Scribe United Kingdom
If you are not spiritual …
… Then honestly read every essay and book by Joan Didion. Her writing will spoon-feed you a harsh but deeply observant love, and make you feel like you’re having a conversation with your most level-headed parent about hippies, the Pioneer West and, in this case, his death. husband and collaborator John Grégory Dunne. So many death and death books are deeply spiritual or religious, but for those of us who have never had faith in logic and, IDK, Pokémon, Didion is your daughter. No one else writes about the surreal logic of brain-mourning like her with such honesty and precision.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
One for the kids
Do you have Muppet Feels? (Of course you do.) You may remember the legendary Sesame Street episode where Big Bird deals with the death of Mr. Hooper. Heavy, man. This episode’s children’s book adaptation brings the same nuanced tenderness of the show, and literally everything in life is better when Big Bird is by your side. Give this to a child or anyone who walks through it.
Random House / Children’s TV Workshop
See you in the next life.
The game room staff independently selected all of the items featured in this story.