The best books on end-of-life planning

Who am I?

I am an advocate for end-of-life planning. When my dad entered his eighties, and while still raising my own children, I found myself unprepared for my father’s steady health decline. Suddenly, I was thrust into the role of overseeing his care and making hard decisions. Our difficulties were exacerbated by a western medical system that fell short to prepare us for the end of his life. After my dad’s death, I began researching end-of-life issues to educate myself and plan for my own senior years. I have a goal to support others who face losing a parent and to facilitate healing for those who have already lost one. I also strive to inform and inspire the next generation to learn and plan early to guide themselves and their families to minimize avoidable problems and enhance quality elder years.

I wrote...

A Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent

By Lisa J. Shultz,

Book cover of A Chance to Say Goodbye: Reflections on Losing a Parent

What is my book about?

After my father's death in 2015, I began researching and compiling information aimed at educating and supporting others who may not be equipped for the challenges and decisions that arise when those we love begin to lose their health and mental clarity. I published this book of reflections on losing my dad, age 89, in 2017. I embraced the challenging and often avoided topic of facing the end-of-life stage of a loved one. I recounted my dad's storied life, including its difficult ending. Wrought with what I felt was unnecessary suffering for all involved at the end, I strive to help others find a more peaceful final chapter of life. The book also inspires conversation and preparation to potentially ease difficult situations for ourselves and those we leave behind. An extensive resource list and self/group study questions are included at the end of the book.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life

Lisa J. Shultz Why did I love this book?

The author, Dr. Zitter, is described as an expert on the medical experience of death and dying. Her specialties of pulmonary/critical care and palliative care brought to life the spectrum between a comfortable, natural death versus a "keep alive at all costs" mentality. This book was thoughtful and presented many sides of difficult dying experiences. I found it incredibly valuable to understand typical trajectories that might occur at the end of life from illness, organ failure, frailty, or dementia. It helped me gain clarity on my own wishes, and I encourage others to read the book and then discuss it with loved ones. Rather than it being a depressing subject matter, it has the potential to be a gift if the reader can move into a place of communicating and documenting wishes for end-of-life.

By Jessica Nutik Zitter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Extreme Measures as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For readers of Being Mortal and Modern Death, 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

In medical school, no one teaches you how to let a patient die.

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 swooping in to rescue patients from the brink of death. But then during her first code she found herself cracking the ribs of a patient so old and…

Book cover of The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life

Lisa J. Shultz Why did I love this book?

This book was helpful for me to navigate the finale of my parent’s lives. But The Art of Dying Well isn't just about one's parents. Many baby boomers are unprepared for dealing with their own aging. I suggest reading it well before you need it. Knowledge is power, and Butler's book gave me the gift of learning more now, while things are relatively calm. A crisis visit to an ER isn't the time to cram in education and research. You may need to be an advocate for yourself or someone you love sooner than later. I have suggested the book to my siblings and friends, which will hopefully lead to meaningful conversation and planning to support each other through our elder years. I am grateful for Butler's practical guide, which is filled with wisdom and resources. I anticipate referring to it again and again as I age. 

By Katy Butler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Art of Dying Well as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This "comforting...thoughtful" (The Washington Post) guide to maintaining a high quality of life-from resilient old age to the first inklings of a serious illness to the final breath-by the New York Times bestselling author of Knocking on Heaven's Door is a "roadmap to the end that combines medical, practical, and spiritual guidance" (The Boston Globe).

"A common sense path to define what a 'good' death looks like" (USA TODAY), The Art of Dying Well is about living as well as possible for as long as possible and adapting successfully to change. Packed with extraordinarily helpful insights and inspiring true stories,…

Book cover of A Beginner's Guide to the End: Practical Advice for Living Life and Facing Death

Lisa J. Shultz Why did I love this book?

This book was beautifully put together. It has tasteful illustrations, handy checklists, and no-nonsense language and advice. The first section was entitled Planning Ahead. It fit well with my advocacy for not leaving a mess behind when you die. The rest of the book discussed dealing with illness, getting help, getting ready for death, and what to do after someone dies. And the resource section at the back of the book is one of the best I have seen. 

By Bj Miller, Shoshana Berger,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Beginner's Guide to the End as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A gentle, knowledgeable guide to a fate we all share” (The Washington Post): the first and only all-encompassing action plan for the end of life.

“There is nothing wrong with you for dying,” hospice physician B.J. Miller and journalist and caregiver Shoshana Berger write in A Beginner’s Guide to the End. “Our ultimate purpose here isn’t so much to help you die as it is to free up as much life as possible until you do.”

Theirs is a clear-eyed and big-hearted action plan for approaching the end of life, written to help readers feel more in control of an…

Book cover of That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour

Lisa J. Shultz Why did I love this book?

Author and doctor Sunita Puri offers a look at palliative medicine from many angles. In a non-judgmental way, she shares stories of patients to highlight difficult scenarios at the end of life. Readers can then derive their own meaning by seeing different sides of challenging situations. 

She also shares stories of her own personal journey as well as conversations she has with her parents to learn their wishes as they age and face end-of-life issues. Her well-written book dispels myths and brings light to the benefits of palliative medicine. This field is often misunderstood or avoided, and I hope this book brings more doctors to this specialty and increased awareness of the benefits of palliative care to readers. 

By Sunita Puri,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked That Good Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"A profound exploration of what it means for all of us to live-and to die-with dignity and purpose." -People

"Visceral and lyrical." -The Atlantic

As the American born daughter of immigrants, Dr. Sunita Puri knew from a young age that the gulf between her parents' experiences and her own was impossible to bridge, save for two elements: medicine and spirituality. Between days spent waiting for her mother, an anesthesiologist, to exit the OR, and evenings spent in conversation with her parents about their faith, Puri witnessed the tension between medicine's impulse to preserve life at all costs and a spiritual…

Book cover of Talking About the End Is Only the Beginning: Conversations Every Child Must Have With Their Aging Parents

Lisa J. Shultz Why did I love this book?

A fast read (just 100 pages) about an important concept of having conversations with your elderly parents sooner than later. The author talks about why we avoid uncomfortable conversations and why you should have them anyway. Denial that everything is fine is not helpful as your parent's age. When you are under duress or grief stricken, the opportunity to talk may have passed. Marcus suggests that sometimes your parents might just be waiting for someone to ask them questions. 

The author then goes on to discuss how to have tough conversations. I appreciated her advice of injecting some humor to help mitigate the fear. Other great ideas were to bring in a third party to neutralize challenging family dynamics, starting with easier topics first and then gradually adding on subjects over time, and using someone else's life as an example. The author then wraps up with what you should talk about. The bottom line is that the author advocates talking and when done early, it can be a gift to all involved. Marcus made this topic readable and succinct.

By Erin Marcus,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Talking About the End Is Only the Beginning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is it time to have a CONVERSATION with your aging parent? Nobody likes having difficult conversations. In fact, most of us avoid them. If you are faced with having a conversation about aging with your parents, this book is for you. Avoiding the conversation and not planning for the future of your aging parents will only cost them (and you) more in the long-run. The financial and emotional expense of waiting to discuss and develop a plan of action can take a heavy toll on bank accounts and family relationships. This book can help you: • understand the importance of…

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Book cover of At What Cost, Silence?

Karen Lynne Klink Author Of At What Cost, Silence?

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