There are hundreds if not thousands of books on understanding death and dying, grief, and dealing with bereavement. As such, it is important to understand that there truly isn’t a number one best or definitive book on the subject.
The fact is, if you are looking for something to help you or a loved one cope with this difficult time, you need to use what works best for you, and you are the only one who will know that. That being said, the following list can provide you with a place to start looking to see what works best for you or your loved one during this time.
While, for the most part, these are in no particular order, the first one on the list is one that I would highly recommend for people who are recently diagnosed or have a loved one who is starting to face death.
Table of Contents
- 1. Gone from My Sight: The Dying Experience by Barbara Karnes, RN
- 2. On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
- 3. On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler
- 4. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
- 5. It’s Ok That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine
- 6. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
- 7. The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America by Ann Neumann
- 8. Advice For Future Corpses (And Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying by Sallie Tisdale
- 9. In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying by Eve Johnson
- 10. How We Die: Reflections of Life’s Final Chapter by Sherwin B. Nuland
This is also affectionately called “the little blue book” by many people who have read or used it. It is often given to the family of patients and their families who have entered into hospice. This is a very short book (15ish pages) and a very quick but powerful read.
It goes through the dying process and how the body typically functions. It is a very good guide to understanding what physically happens to the body as a loved one dies. It is particularly good at describing what happens during “active” dying, from hours to the minutes prior to death.
This is an easy book to understand and is written in plain language using non-medical terms and explaining the ones they do use.
This is the quintessential book on grieving, death, and dying. It is the book that many therapists and academics refer to when they are providing care. It describes the stages of grief and how to identify them.
The focus is primarily for professionals who deal with death and dying or a regular basis but can assist those who are in the bereavement process.
3. On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler
Also by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler, this is a book that is aimed a bit more for the general public to focus on the grief process. It is a bit easier to read than On Death and Dying for those people who are not in an occupation that may deal with these emotions on a more regular basis.
This #1 New York Times Bestseller is a fantastic book that is not written like a handbook, but a storybook. The reader can understand death through a focus on life. It is an engaging read while still providing vital information that anyone who is facing a final journey themselves or accompanying a loved one on their journey.
The beautiful thing about this book is that even if you aren’t on your own or someone else’s journey, the book is still wonderful. It provides insights on death that many of us can use to just be better human beings.
5. It’s Ok That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture that Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine
This is a wonderful book for not only someone who is experiencing grief through a loss but particularly if the loss is through a tragedy (as opposed to a long-standing illness or disease).
The author shares her own tragedy and journey in a touching and healing way to allow the reader to not only experience it but understand how it transcends to the grief the reader may also be feeling. It dispels the notion that grief is something that one can “get over” or “move through”. Providing practical tips on coping mechanisms without giving long-winded platitudes or timelines by which the reader should feel one way or another.
It is a good book to help move through and life alongside feelings of sadness and loss.
This is another spellbinding book about death that is more about understanding death and dying through the personal story of a physician who came face to face with his own mortality.
It is not so much a book that gives you tactics to understand grief, as much as it is an excellent story about how one can embrace grief and loss; whether it is of a person, ideals, or a dream. It is a masterclass in accepting and even embracing the inevitable heartbreak that comes with the diagnosis of a terminal illness.
A philosophy book in under the disguise of a beautiful and intricate look into what we a culture consider a “good death.”
Using her own experiences, the author provides insight and provocative questions about how we understand and discuss death. While the author allows room for multiple points of view and definitions, she also leads the reader a long trail that makes one question your own definitions of death, dying, and what it may be like for those who are left to grieve.
8. Advice For Future Corpses (And Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying by Sallie Tisdale
Through her use of humor and experience from her years as a nurse in palliative care, this book is for anyone who is either facing death, works in healthcare where death may be a daily occurrence or anyone who is simply interested or questions what may or may not happen when death comes.
It provides excellent advice on what you or your loved ones may want, need, or even think about when it comes to dying. Touching on many of the versatile topics within death and dying of grief, communication, and what you can expect physically, Tisdale discusses taboo topics with grace and wit. Certainly a book worth reading for all Future corpses!
Another book written by an author who has had significant experience with hospice; this book, much like several of the others, provides insight into how we perceive the death and dying process. It interweaves stories about other cultural traditions and literature to science and religion.
The exploration of death and dying through another persons point of view not only entertains and educates, but helps us realize that we probably have more in common at this stage of life than we initially imagined.
Using a marvelous gift of storytelling, Nuland talked about death and dying through stories of his patients as well as personal stories from his family. Unlike the other books on this list, Nuland chooses to discuss very specific ways in which we die. These include old age, cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s Disease, accidents, heart disease, and strokes.
With the insight of a clinician and the heart of a storyteller, this book looks at these ways we die and provides empathy and compassion.
There are certainly many books that cover various topics around death and dying. This list is certainly not exhaustive. However, if you are looking for books that focus on death and dying in general, this is a good place to start.
Everyone deals with this subject differently, and it is important that you find a book that you feel will help you the most whether you are looking to find comfort of study the subject.