The best books on end of life care

4 authors have picked their favorite books about end of life care and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

The Art of Dying Well

By Katy Butler,

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

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. 


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.

A Beginner's Guide to the End

By Bj Miller, Shoshana Berger,

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

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.


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

Being with Dying

By Joan Halifax,

Book cover of Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death

This book rattled and awakened me in a place that seemed taboo to tickle. Studying death and dying can be driven by ego (what are you going to wear at your funeral? Do you have your music picked out?) Not to say there is not some good in the ego-driven work-- contemplating that can be done no matter what angle you study. However, Being With Dying cuts to the chase. If you feel ready to dismantle your illusion of living forever (or, if think that you’ll only die on your own terms, but only when you’re ready) this book is for you. 


Who am I?

To care for the dying is not only strenuous physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but it is a challenge in self-care and a constant call to remain non-judgmental. As someone who struggled financially as a single mother for many years, I discovered that compassion and empathy were needed not only for my children but also myself—indeed self-love was at the core of all. Working with the elderly in residential care, in hospice, and with individuals and families I now teach community deathcare with an edge of social activism to help the vulnerable feel safe while living and while dying.


I wrote...

Death Nesting: Ancient & Modern Death Doula Techniques, Mindfulness Practices and Herbal Care

By Anne-Marie Keppel,

Book cover of Death Nesting: Ancient & Modern Death Doula Techniques, Mindfulness Practices and Herbal Care

What is my book about?

Death Nesting incorporates ancient and modern death doula techniques, mindfulness practices, and herbal support to physically, emotionally, and spiritually care for the dying. The focus is on "whole being" caregiving for home deaths but can be implemented into other settings such as acute care to create a more holistic experience. Basic physical care for bedridden individuals, anecdotal vignettes, and glimpses into the world of spirit emphasize the poignancy, yet lightheartedness, of the dying process.

The mindfulness practices, while profound, are also simple and can be done by anyone new to meditation. Throughout the book, references to nature inspire the understanding that death is part of life—a part which we all experience.

Extreme Measures

By Jessica Nutik Zitter,

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

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.


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.

Being Mortal

By Atul Gawande,

Book cover of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Death is the exam we all have to take. And yet not only are we afraid of it, we are afraid to talk about it. Atul Gawande is a second-generation MD, gerontologist, and surprisingly graceful writer who takes us on a compassionate journey through all topics of aging, end-of-life care, and how we deny our own mortality. We often inappropriately extend the suffering of our loved ones with excessive medical intervention because we haven’t examined our own fears. I love this book and reread it when my own mortality or a close death gives me pause. It opens our hearts and helps us become more comfortable with the inevitable. 


Who am I?

I am an emotional intuitive with a background in psychology, five decades of hands-on experience, and a love and fascination for language. You could call me a Body-mind Translator or a Body Whisperer. I started systematically “listening” to bodies when I was seven, and have worked with thousands of bodies since then. In my books and in sessions, I have the words to translate the body’s messages so people understand what their body is communicating through tension and symptoms and make lasting improvement. My purpose and greatest joy are to catalyze deep healing where physical and emotional interconnect – directly in the body.  


I wrote...

Issues in Your Tissues: Heal Body and Emotion from the Inside Out

By Denise LaBarre,

Book cover of Issues in Your Tissues: Heal Body and Emotion from the Inside Out

What is my book about?

What happened to the energy of the tears you had to suck down as a kid? Or the anger you weren’t allowed to express? It accumulates in your body with like-energy to become pain, illness, and disease. 

Issues in Your Tissues is a practical, easy-to-read guide to exploring the unexpressed emotions you carry. My book offers the insights and tools you need to go into your own body, allow the energy to release, and get the healing answers you've been looking for. Its stories, cartoons, quiz, and exercises show you how you can reconnect to your internal communication system, shed your energetic “armor,” and heal the roots of even chronic illness. The health and aliveness you were born with are yours to reclaim with understanding and love.

Awake at the Bedside

By Koshin Paley Ellison, Matt Weingast,

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

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. 


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

How We Die

By Sherwin B. Nuland,

Book cover of How We Die: Reflections of Life's Final Chapter

Until I began researching death and dying, I hadn’t realized my quest was so literal-minded. Despite the satisfyingly large number of relevant books, most circle around the subject, focusing on areas such as grief, the importance of creating a living will, or funeral planning—all important topics, but I wanted to learn about dying itself.

Then I discovered Nuland’s book. Chapter by chapter, he describes what we know about the physical experience of dying, depending on the type of death: Heart attacks, murders, falls, Alzheimer’s, cancer. Nuland’s background is in surgery, and his descriptions are neither graphic nor gory, but he doesn’t flinch from providing details. Although his book was first published in 1993, no one has yet matched its straightforward, informative approach.


Who am I?

When my mother enrolled in hospice after years of living with cancer, the nurse asked her: Do you want to know what will happen to your body as it starts shutting down? That was the first time anyone talked with us about the dying process. The question came as an immense relief, eventually inspiring this book. After witnessing the difficulties and surprising joys of my mother’s dying experience, I began hospice volunteering. Later, I spent three intensive stints volunteering at San Francisco’s Zen Hospice Project. And as a former journalist and associate professor of English, I began researching and interviewing experts. Their deep caring and knowledge inform this book.


I wrote...

What Does It Feel Like to Die?: Inspiring New Insights Into the Experience of Dying

By Jennie Dear,

Book cover of What Does It Feel Like to Die?: Inspiring New Insights Into the Experience of Dying

What is my book about?

What Does it Feel Like to Die? describes what doctors and scientists know about the experience of dying. I wrote the book for people like my mother or me, for baby boomers facing our parents’ impending deaths—and starting to grapple with our own mortality. It’s based on research and interviews with doctors, nurses, psychologists, and other experts, and is informed by my years as a hospice volunteer. The book is honest about the facts of dying, but it’s also ultimately hopeful, because it examines death and dying in order to better understand life.

When My Time Comes

By Diane Rehm,

Book cover of When My Time Comes: Conversations about Whether Those Who Are Dying Should Have the Right to Determine When Life Should End

Diane is the curious and savvy public radio journalist who educated even as she entertained so many Americans, presenting conversations on every aspect of life in arts, science, and politics. I came to know Diane when I appeared on her show and was transfixed by watching her expertly navigate advanced broadcast technology even as she sized up her guests, crafted questions from her own astute observations, and coaxed her guests to reveal things they perhaps did not intend. In this book, she shares her most personal side as she considers options at the end of a life well-lived. Her wisdom is gleaned from personal history plus thousands of interviews, and she generously shares it with us. 


Who am I?

I first started tending patients at age 15, as a candy striper at St. Joseph Hospital. That was a long time ago, and since then I’ve learned much at patients’ bedsides, in Congress, statehouses and courtrooms. Through sequential careers in nursing, medicine, law, and advocacy, I learned that end-of-life experiences have the most to teach us about being truly present to our lives, about learning to love well and growing in wisdom. Personal autonomy, individual empowerment, and guided planning are all key to moving past our fear of death. In the end, as Seneca observed, “The art of living well and dying well are one.”


I wrote...

Finish Strong: Putting Your Priorities First at Life's End

By Barbara Coombs Lee,

Book cover of Finish Strong: Putting Your Priorities First at Life's End

What is my book about?

It’s hard to talk about death in America. But even though the topic has been taboo, life’s end is an eventual reality for us all. So why not shape it to your values? Written with candor and clarity by a nurse, physician assistant, and attorney who became a leading advocate for end-of-life options, this book will guide you through: finding a partner-doctor to honor your values and beliefs; identifying and documenting what matters most; having meaningful conversations with doctors and family about expectations and wishes; staying off the “overtreatment conveyor belt”; understanding “slow medicine”; navigating home hospice; using recommended free resources and tools to take charge.

Finish Strong is for those of us who want an end-of-life experience to match the life we’ve enjoyed.

The Emperor of All Maladies

By Siddhartha Mukherjee,

Book cover of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

The Emperor of All Maladies lays out the history of research on specific cancer treatments, showing that most treatment plans have a foundation in vetted quality research. I found that very helpful once I was diagnosed with cancer since it allowed me to trust my doctors and their recommendations. The book also shows that most cancer researchers are dedicated to the work and to patients. As an oncology nurse I worked with physicians whose egos were the focus of their practice. Mukherjee’s portrayals of altruistic physicians helped me see doctors more generously.


Who am I?

I am an expert on being a cancer patient because I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2017. I am also a former oncology and hospice nurse. A cancer diagnosis always feels like a calamity and my work with very sick cancer patients showed me how serious the disease can be. I also thought that our health care system would react to cancer with compassion, but I was wrong. I felt on my own as a patient, and that experience led me to reflect on my nursing work. Healing alternates between me being a nurse and a patient. The alteration shows the failings of our health care system, and how to make it more caring.


I wrote...

Healing: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient

By Theresa Brown,

Book cover of Healing: When a Nurse Becomes a Patient

What is my book about?

When an oncology nurse is diagnosed with cancer, she has to confront the most critical, terrified, and angry patient she’s ever encountered: herself.

New York Times bestselling author Theresa Brown tells a poignant, powerful, and intensely personal story about breast cancer in Healing. She brings us along with her from the mammogram that would change her life through her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. Despite her training and years of experience as an oncology and hospice nurse, she finds herself continually surprised by the lack of compassion in the medical maze—just as so many of us have. 

Finish Strong

By Barbara Coombs Lee,

Book cover of Finish Strong: Putting Your Priorities First at Life's End

Barbara Coombs Lee is a nurse, lawyer, and leader of the movement to promote assisted death in the United States and around the world for people with terminal illnesses. Lee is a patient advocate at heart, a position she embodied given her work as a nurse. In this book, she provides a humane, eye witness view of what she saw as a nurse that inspired her to spark a movement that strives to give patients control over their bodies and medical decisions.


Who am I?

As a physician, I have been in innumerable situations where people and their loved ones were facing off a serious illness but felt like they were completely lost. The reality of the end of life is nothing like how we have experienced it throughout our history. I have written about end-of-life care for the New York Times, Washington Post, and The Atlantic amongst others, but felt that this was such an important and vast issue that it deserved a deeper dive. My research also focuses on end-of-life care and I was able to weave a story presented through stories, historical texts, and research papers in a way that readers will feel like they have a map of just how life and death have evolved with scientific advances and a changing society. It doesn’t hurt that I trained at Harvard Medical School and Duke University, providing me the best environments to shape my views and perspective.


I wrote...

Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life

By Haider Warraich,

Book cover of Modern Death: How Medicine Changed the End of Life

What is my book about?

As a physician, on an almost daily basis, I have countless encounters with patients and family members who find themselves in some of the most difficult circumstances in their lives. Many of them find themselves facing death, an experience that they find completely alien and foreign. The fact is that how we die these days is diametrically different from how we have died as a species for our entire history.

Modern Death provides a historical and scientific review of how death and dying have evolved over the past few decades and provides an in-depth overview of the landscape of the end of life in our society. I tackle some of the basic questions of death – the whys, wheres, whens, and hows – but also some larger questions. Technological and social changes have made death and dying completely unfamiliar terrain for most people. I wanted to write something that would spread this message beyond the four walls of my clinic or hospital.

Or, view all 10 books about end of life care

New book lists related to end of life care

All book lists related to end of life care

Bookshelves related to end of life care