The best books on hospice

Many authors have picked their favorite books about hospice and why they recommend each book.

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Lessons from the Dying

By Rodney Smith (,

Book cover of Lessons from the Dying

There are many books about what dying has to teach the living. This is the one I keep on my bedside shelf. When I talk to people about my own experiences with hospice and dying, they sometimes wax ecstatic about the subject. I believe they’re right to see the possibilities for joy and spiritual growth, but I also think it’s crucial to look at death with clear eyes. As a former Buddhist monk and hospice director who has worked with dying people, Smith does just that. Again, and again, he emphasizes that death does involve suffering. But he also writes movingly—and honestly—about the experiences he’s witnessed, helping readers to face our own mortality and learn how to live better and more joyfully.

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.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

By Rachel Joyce,

Book cover of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

Set in hospice as Queenie awaits Harold’s arrival, her story is one of love, kindness, and acceptance, and fills in details not fully covered in Harold’s story. Though the books can be read independently, I would recommend reading Harold’s story first and then Queenie’s. When you finish you will be in love with Rachel Joyce.

Who am I?

I have always found that uplifting stories—in which kindness is more powerful than cruelty, and love and friendship blossom in unexpected and even tragic circumstances—give one hope, and hope is the foundation of resilience. Such stories can be set in familiar, comforting places, or new adventurous locales. My own experiences in Uganda, and my husband’s anti-corruption work were the inspiration for one of the locales of my novel about Bennett.

I wrote...

The Best Thing About Bennett

By Irene Wittig,

Book cover of The Best Thing About Bennett

What is my book about?

An inspiring contemporary novel that follows a socially isolated middle-aged woman who, through chance encounters and the trip of a lifetime, finds the courage to break out of her shell.

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

How to Care for Aging Parents

By Virginia Morris,

Book cover of How to Care for Aging Parents: A One-Stop Resource for All Your Medical, Financial, Housing, and Emotional Issues

Virginia Morris has been a leading expert in the field of aging and caregiving. I have high respect for her experience and her work. This book is a comprehensive guide that explores emotional, psychological, and physical challenges that arise when the ultimate role reversal happens. It is a difficult transition for all concerned and this resource offers great information, tips, and scenarios that will resonate with all caregivers. 

Who am I?

I have been a medical social worker for over 40 years working with people who have had a catastrophic illness. I counseled them and their family members. Because of this experience, I have a lot of knowledge, experience, and training regarding the challenges caregivers face. In addition, I was the primary caregiver for my parents and helped take care of 2 friends helping them to die with dignity. Finally, I am the author of an 8-time award-winning book called Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. I have written hundreds of articles on health-related topics including aging and caregiving.

I wrote...

Role Reversal: How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents

By Iris Waichler,

Book cover of Role Reversal: How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents

What is my book about?

Designed to help caregivers understand how to cope with and overcome the overwhelming challenges that arise while caregiving for a loved one―especially an aging parent―Role Reversal is a comprehensive guide to navigating the enormous daily challenges faced by caregivers.

In these pages, Waichler blends her personal experience caring for her beloved father with her forty years of expertise as a patient advocate and licensed clinical social worker. It is told in her voice and his. His life story becomes a springboard discussing universal caregiving themes. The result is a book offering invaluable information on topics ranging from estate planning to grief and anger to building a support network and finding the right level of care for your elderly parent. This book won 8 major book awards. 

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