The best palliative care books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about palliative care and why they recommend each book.

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That Good Night

By Sunita Puri,

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

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. 

That Good Night

By Sunita Puri,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…

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.

With the End in Mind

By Kathryn Mannix,

Book cover of With the End in Mind: Dying, Death, and Wisdom in an Age of Denial

Dr. Mannix studied and practiced in palliative care for over thirty years. In her book she shares insightful stories, highlighting the value of approaching death with an open, clear understanding. She makes the case for forethought and preparation to meet death gently. Each unique story nudges the reader toward a greater appreciation for the depths of meaning of each special life.

With the End in Mind

By Kathryn Mannix,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked With the End in Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER

'Impossible to read with dry eyes or an unaltered mindset' Sunday Times

'Illuminating and beautiful' Cathy Rentzenbrink

What if everything you thought you knew about death was wrong?

How should we prepare for the facts of dying and saying our goodbyes?

And what if understanding death improved your life?

By turns touching and tragic, funny and wise, With the End in Mind brings together Kathryn Mannix ' s lifetime of medical experience to tell powerful stories of life and death.


Who am I?

Since 2012, when I was fortunate to be a companion to my dying father, I have gained a deep appreciation for the topics of death, dying, grief and bereavement. Being with him during his final moments was a vitally transformative event in my life, and subsequent developments led me to become a writer and curator of content in this field. I am now an end-of-life educator and preparedness facilitator, whose role it is to assist others to prepare for their inevitable, eventual death. Being prepared, by making informed choices and documenting them, can be one of the greatest gifts we give to our loved ones. I coach my End-of-Life Matters clients to do just that.


I wrote...

Daddy, This Is It: Being-with My Dying Dad

By Julie Saeger Nierenberg,

Book cover of Daddy, This Is It: Being-with My Dying Dad

What is my book about?

My father lived an inspiring End of Life, a journey of courage, sorrow, wonder and assurances of Eternal Love. And before he passed, he encouraged me to share the story of his transition with you. With courage and amazing grace, he lovingly prepared our family for his passing. As our time together came to an end, I was grateful to be present.

Although death is an inevitable part of life, how we choose to be-with the dying and the bereaved is up to us. I encourage you to prepare and to embrace the possibility of a lovingly supported transition and, to that end, I include some resources that may help you. Being ready to be-with is a wonderful way to live.

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.

Extreme Measures

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.


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.

Dying Well

By Ira Byock,

Book cover of Dying Well

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.

Dying Well

By Ira Byock,

Why should I read it?

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


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 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. 

The Art of Dying Well

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,…

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.

Book cover of The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book about Living

I sometimes read aloud from this book to hospice patients because when you’re dying, it’s easy to believe that it’s too late—too late to make amends, too late to reconnect, too late to do anything more for the world you’re leaving behind. Byock, a doctor who has worked extensively with dying people, says that’s not the case. Instead, he urges his patients to communicate with their friends and family members, to say thanks, to forgive, to apologize, and to express their love. The book is filled with examples of times people on the edge of death were able to connect more deeply or heal old wounds, changing the lives of those close to them for the better.

The Four Things That Matter Most

By Ira Byock,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Four Things That Matter Most as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Four simple phrases-"Please forgive me," "I forgive you," "Thank you," and "I love you"-carry enormous power to mend and nurture our relationships and inner lives. These four phrases and the sentiments they convey provide a path to emotional wellbeing, guiding us through interpersonal difficulties to life with integrity and grace.

Dr. Ira Byock, an international leader in palliative care, explains how we can practice these life-affirming words in our day-to-day lives. Too often we assume that the people we love really know that we love them. Dr. Byock demonstrates the value of "stating the obvious" and provides practical insights into…

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.

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