The best books on how to support a dying person

Kirsten DeLeo Author Of Present Through the End: A Caring Companion's Guide for Accompanying the Dying
By Kirsten DeLeo

Who am I?

I have accompanied dying people for more than twenty-five years—as a counsellor, volunteer chaplain, and companion. I feel passionate about changing the perception of dying and death, the way we care for people during their most vulnerable moments, and how we support families through this painful time. Since my twenties I have been immersed in Buddhist practise which inspires and informs my life and work. Together with other clinicians and mindfulness practitioners, we created one of the first contemplative-based training in end-of-life care for caregivers called “Authentic Presence”. Daring to be present might be the hardest thing you may have done in your life, and, you may come to discover, one of the most intimate, beautiful, and rewarding.


I wrote...

Present Through the End: A Caring Companion's Guide for Accompanying the Dying

By Kirsten DeLeo,

Book cover of Present Through the End: A Caring Companion's Guide for Accompanying the Dying

What is my book about?

This award-winning small guide offers support for everyone accompanying someone at the end of life. Kirsten DeLeo shares down-to-earth advice to help you be there fully - from the moment you first learn that someone is dying through the time of death and beyond. She offers insight and encouragement when you are unsure what to do or say and shows you how to be present even though you may feel utterly helpless, and love when loss is just around the corner. You will find simple practices to help you handle your emotions, deal with difficult relationships, talk about what matters, practice self-care, and work through challenging situations with presence and kindness.

“A must-read.” Christina M. Puchalski, MD, George Washington University’s Institute for Spirituality and Health

The books I picked & why

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Dying Well

By Ira Byock,

Book cover of Dying Well

Why this book?

Dr. Ira Byock is a well-known authority in palliative care and hospice and a wonderful storyteller. In his stories, he talks about the physical realities of the dying process, the emotional despair we may witness, or how to handle family dynamics. He doesn't shy away from reflecting on his personal growth doing this work, which makes this book deeply human and relatable. Dying Well was published several years ago. It is still an informative and insightful read, especially if you are a family caregiver and care for a loved one. Please also check out his other books, Four Things That Matter Most and The Best Care Possible.


Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End-Of-Life Care

By Koshin Paley Ellison, Matt Weingast,

Book cover of Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End-Of-Life Care

Why this book?

If you are looking for a ‘quick fix' or 'how to’ read, this book may at first glance not be the most obvious choice. Awake at the Bedside is not your traditional guidebook. It is a moving and insightful collection of essays written by clinicians, chaplains, caregivers, pioneers in end-of-life care, contemplative teachers, and poets. Each essay sheds light on the different facets of what it means to show up at the bedside and the opportunity to wake up to each moment. I contributed a chapter on spiritual care, but that’s not why I recommend this volume. I recommend it because it is written by caregivers for caregivers—honest, reflective, compassionate, inspirational, and practical. A human and compassionate vision for end-of-life care. 


The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

By Sogyal Rinpoche,

Book cover of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Why this book?

For me, the heart advice for caring for the dying in chapter 11 encapsulates the essence of what you need to know and understand about supporting a loved one who is ill or elderly and is facing death. It is compassionate and offers profound guidance and wisdom not only for death but for life. This book has touched millions of readers coming from all traditions and walks of life.


Intimate Death: How the Dying Teach Us How to Live

By Marie De Hennezel, Carol Janeway (translator),

Book cover of Intimate Death: How the Dying Teach Us How to Live

Why this book?

Intimate Death stands out through its spare and poetic language, its astute observation of the experiences of illness and dying, and matters of human dignity. Marie de Hennezel is a French psychologist. With great compassion and sensitivity, she shares her conversations with patients. She tells of life's unfinished business and how she learned to attend to it. Her writing is beautiful and transformative. It will touch your heart and change how you will view death.

Another book I would like to mention is Henri Nouwen’s Our Greatest Gifts: A Meditation on Dying and Caring. Nouwen is a Catholic priest and spiritual writer. Like de Hennezel, he touches the reader through his poetic and direct style.


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

By Bj Miller, Shoshana Berger,

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

Why this book?

Mainly written for patients who decided to end treatment and want to prepare for death, this is a enlightening read for caregivers as well. It is a newer publication and will walk you through all the things you need to consider and talk about with the person as you plan ahead. Talking about these matters openly is uncomfortable and will bring up sadness. The gentle tone of this book will help you along the way. It will also help you prepare for your own death.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in death, end of life care, and Buddhism?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about death, end of life care, and Buddhism.

Death Explore 178 books about death
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death, The Art of Dying Well: A Practical Guide to a Good End of Life, and How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter if you like this list.