The best books on end-of-life planning

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Jessica Nutik Zitter

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

Why 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.


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

By Katy Butler

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

Why 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. 


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

By Bj Miller, Shoshana Berger

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

Why 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. 


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That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour

By Sunita Puri

That Good Night: Life and Medicine in the Eleventh Hour

Why 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. 


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

By Erin Marcus

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

Why 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.


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