Books for Living and Dying

chamomile blossoms


Illness and Relationships:

Beyond Chaos: One Man’s Journey Alongside His Chronically Ill Wife
by Gregg Piburn

My husband, who is not remotely into self help books, found this book very validating and supportive of his feelings on the other end of illness, and I found the candor refreshing and gained a lot of insight into my husband’s experience. Initially we had experienced some trouble feeling free to share our negative feelings about my illness but this book really helped.

The Couple’s Comfort Book: A Creative Guide for Renewing Passion, Pleasure and Commitment by Jennifer Louden

Louden has a chapter particularly dealing with crisis and illness, Nurturing During Crisis and Loss, and lists some other books as resources for such situations. The entire book, however, will provide ways to continue to nurture the relationship and can serve as a resource guide.

Stories From The Heart published by the National Coalition for Women With Heart Disease, available through

An anthology of women and their families dealing with heart disease. I wrote one of the pieces in the Recovery section and it is presented with my first name as the heading.

All In My Head: An Epic Quest to Cure an Unrelenting, Totally Unreasonable, and Only Slightly Enlightening Headache by Paula Kamen

This is my migraine and chronic daily headache resource. Paula Kamen is a journalist who has suffered from migraines and chronic headaches for over a decade and has suffered through all of the conventional and alternative therapies available without a cure. She shares the latest research with us amid a witty cultural analysis of why we women are often told it’s “all in your head.” (I heard this about my gallbladder attacks until they finally saw the gallstones on x-ray.)

Lotus in the Fire: The Healing Power of Zen by Jim Bedard

This book is an amazing account by a man that held his spiritual center throughout the searing pain and suffering of his treatment for leukemia.


The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond by Patricia Evans
I knew when I left my abusive first husband that the verbal abuse had done more lasting damage than the physical abuse. For anyone who wonders whether they are in a verbally abusive relationship or wants to know how to deal with it, this is an amazing resource. It really breaks down the verbal abuser’s strategies, so that when you are wondering if a particular phrase was verbally abusive, you’ll have a resource that tells you how and why it is. It also lays out the ways a verbal abuser denies or downplays his or her words. It strips away their camouflage so that one can see them for what they are.

Death and Dying:

Winona’s Web: A Novel of Discovery by Priscilla Cogan…Fiction. A psychotherapist treats a Native American woman who has decided that she is ready to die soon–by natural causes. The therapist ends up learning from her about the purpose of life and what may lie beyond. A very affirming book, most comforting when I was in the hospital.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

A child’s book that explores death from the perspective of a little girl who meets a group of immortals and has to decide if she will join them or not.

The Radiant Coat: Myths and Stories About the Crossing Between Life and Death An audiocassette and CD by Clarrisa Pinkola Estes from Sounds True Recordings, 735 Walnut St, Boulder CO 80302

(All of her work is excellent) Again, very comforting. If I were dying, I’d want to listen to this again. A very positive view of death.

Death: The Final Stage of Growth edited by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, MD
A collection of essays about death from a pioneer in the field. Very hopeful.

Time To Say Goodbye: A Guide To Empowerment During Illness and Aging by Barbara Olive, RN

How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter by Sherwin B Nuland

Dr. Nuland gives us a comprehensive look at the physical experience of death from a variety of common causes. I found it comforting to be better prepared for what I might feel at the time of death.

Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber
by Ken Wilber, Shambala Books

This book chronicles the experience of Treya and Ken when she is diagnosed early in their relationship with cancer, her successful battle with it and her recurrence and later death. Ken Wilber is a prominent Buddhist writer and the book includes both their experience and his spiritual focus, in a manner that is accessible to people of all faiths.

Advice on Dying by His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Tibetan Buddhism has a particular viewpoint on death and preparing for it that I think we all can learn from.

The Pagan Book of Living and Dying: Practical Rituals, Prayers, Blessings, and Meditations on Crossing Over by Starhawk and M. Macha NightMare.

This book has some really beautiful poetry that can be appreciated in a non-denominational, universal way. One of the phrases I remember vividly is “You go from love into love.”

Talking About Death Won’t Kill You by Virginia Morris

I found this in a bookstore on sale and really loved it. It opened my eyes to the dilemma people face when they confront various medical situations of their loved ones with only the vague instruction, “I don’t want to be on machines.” Sometimes those “machines” are needed in a short term situation such as systemic infection. Morris gives a great deal of insight as to how these medical scenarios may play out and some of the specific guidelines you should give your next of kin or what to ask your doctor about in terms of your illness. She also encourages us to define what we believe a “good” death would be and have good communication with doctors and family about our wishes in those regards as well. I really found this book helpful in trying to decide for myself at what point I want to stop medical interventions.

She also co-authored a book on taking care of aging parents: How to Care for Aging Parents by Virginia Morris and Robert M. Butler.

Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life by Megory Anderson

I finally realized I had to buy this when I had renewed it at the library for the 5th time. Megory Anderson’s book is useful both for the people who are dying and most especially for family members and friends who are trying to ease their way and support them in finding a way to experience a conscious and meaningful death experience. Doing so will also help with the grief process that follows. Her book is nondenominational and the last chapter contains quotes from various religious scriptures.

I also got a copy of a really wonderful document called Five Wishes, a medical directive that also has room for spiritual and other wishes in addition to the legal directive about medical care. You can get a copy by calling 1-888-594-7437 or by going to Aging With Dignity’s website ( I highly recommend it, especially for those of you with ill parents or grandparents. It is the best and most comprehensive advanced directive document I have seen, and really helps one think about one’s wishes very clearly.


How To Survive The Loss of a Love by Melba Colgrove, PH.D., Harold H. Bloomfied, M.D., and Peter McWilliams
Continuously in print since 1976, this is a classic grief book recommended by the American Psychological Association to their clients. It is soothing to read and broken up into small segments that are easier to handle when you’re grieving than long blocks of text. This book is like having a friend take your hand and guide you through the rough terrain of grieving. I keep a copy to hand out to friends and everyone who has used it really loved it.

Life After Loss: Conquering Grief and Finding Hope by Raymond Moody Jr., M.D., and Dianne Arcangel

Living Through Personal Crisis (Mass Market Paperback)
by Ann Kaiser Stearns
Another classic—this one helped me get through the process of grieving my mother’s death (and therefore it is not one of those unfinished grieving processes).

To Begin Again: The Journey Toward Comfort, Strength, and Faith in Difficult Times by Naomi Levy
Written by a rabbi who lost her father in a senseless holdup when she was fifteen, and informed by her work with her congregation and her deep personal faith, this book is sensitively written and powerfully examines how difficult it can be to hold on to faith when we’re suffering. Accessible to all denominations.

The Art of Condolence: What to Write, What to Say, What to Do At a Time of Loss by Leonard M. Zunin, M.D. and Hilary Stanton Zunin
I found this in the library and devoured it. I am the kind of person who loves to send cards and really try to say just the right thing—I don’t let cards speak for me but rather prefer to add my own words. This book was invaluable and even covered special situations such as suicide or death by AIDS and the social stigma that surrounds them. If you want to comfort someone but fear to say the wrong thing, this book is for you.

Depression and Anxiety:

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy by David Burns
The classic book on cognitive therapy and depression, has good information on medications in addition to strategies for coping with depression. There’s a related workbook that I haven’t checked out yet. If CBT isn’t sufficient there’s a newer therapy that combines it with a Zen-mindfulness approach called DBT or dialectical behavioral therapy. People with borderline personality disorder are finding it much more useful for their particular needs though anyone can benefit from it.

Out Of The Blues: Strategies That Work to Get You Through The Down Times by Jay Cleve, PH.D.
A handbook of short and long term coping skills to manage depression.

Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder
by Normal E. Rosenthal, M.D.
In addition to information about seasonal depression research and how to manage and treat seasonal depression, there’s an interesting chapter about artistic and literary creation as it relates to mood disorders. Writers and artists will find it fascinating.

Living Well with Pain and Illness: The Mindful Way to Free Yourself from Suffering
by Vidyamala Burch
Vidyamala Burch lives with chronic pain herself, which lends her words great credibility. As I live with chronic pain it is difficult to have people in general or even doctors try to tell me about pain. Ms. Burch KNOWS PAIN, just like we do, and she can help. You can also get CDs of guided visualizations that I haven’t heard yet but others have said they are better than Kabat-Zinn’s. (see below re: Zinn) Her CD is entitled: Body Scan: Managing Pain, Illness and Stress with Guided Mindfulness Meditation
Another: Kindly Awareness CD, which is described as: “The Kindly Awareness meditations on this double CD help cultivate a warm, gentle feeling of emotional engagement and kindness toward ourselves and others. Using the rhythm of the breath we create a restful, spacious awareness in which we can lessen the tendency to push away pain or rush restlessly after new short-lived pleasures. Kindly Awareness can be practiced by anyone, and is particularly helpful for people living with chronic stress, as well as those wanting greater ease and wellbeing in their life.”

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness by John Kabat-Zinn, PH.D.
This is an immensely useful resource for de-stressing and attending to the mind-body connection in a way that optimizes the potential for healing or coping when full health is no longer possible. There are a number of exercises in meditation and accompanying tapes and cds are available. In some areas classes are available that follow the ideas of Kabat-Zinn’s book. Insurance companies sometimes offer discounts.

The Worrywart’s Companion: Twenty-One Ways to Soothe Yourself and Worry Smart by Beverly Potter
I admit, I am a chronic worrier and can catastrophize with the best of ‘em. This book has really helped me recognize when I’m going overboard and need to get back in balance and gave me strategies to do so. Now if only I could get some people I know to read it…

Women and Self-Esteem: Understanding and Improving the Way We Think and Feel About Ourselves by Linda Tschirhart Sanford and Mary Ellen Donovan
Available in paperback at Amazon, copyright 1984
Everything you needed to know about self-esteem but nobody taught you.

Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide for Restoring Balance in Your Life by Jennifer Louden
My Bible on self-nurturing! I was already pretty good at it but this book took it to new levels. I wish she would write one for men—or maybe her husband would.

Note: Nathaniel Branden has also done a lot of writing on the subject of self-esteem and is considered by some the expert on the subject. Men who wish to improve their self-esteem might find his books useful. I recall that I read one when I first started working on self-esteem and it was very good. I can’t remember which book it was now.

Journal Writing, Storytelling, and Ritual:

Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest
by Christina Baldwin
Baldwin is not pushing any particular brand of spiritual path here, rather she is encouraging us to try out different journaling techniques and meditations to accompany us on our spiritual journey, whatever form that may take.

Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Story by Christina Baldwin
This book reminds me of the cultural practice of “talk-story” portrayed by Maxine Hong Kingston in her book, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Every culture uses stories to make sense of events and life passages. Baldwin makes this practice accessible to each of us so that our stories can be shared, understood, and provide lessons for others. Such stories can bridge the cultural, religious and political differences that divide us, and Baldwin provides examples of how it does just that.

Rituals For Our Times: Celebrating, Healing, and Changing Our Lives and Our Relationships by Evan Imber-Black, PH.D., and Janine Roberts, ED.D.
I discovered this book as a single parent and I am so glad I had it as a resource right when I needed it. It enabled me to think consciously about the rituals of our little nuclear family and helped me create some meaningful ones as well as find ways to discuss them with my children for feedback. There are some unique examples of rituals given in the book, including one for a blended family and another for a woman who needed to find a way to let go of a former mate and celebrate the independence of her new life. The authors also cover how a death in the family can interrupt the rituals, particularly when the family matriarch dies and she was the one who did all the hosting and cooking. They give some guidance for establishing new rituals that enable the family to cope with and honor their loss and reconnect in a new way.

Dancing Up the Moon: A Woman’s Guide to Creating Traditions That Bring Sacredness to Daily Life by Robin Heerens Lysne
This book gave me lots of ideas for creating personal rituals. Where the book above gave me more background on the psychological and cultural aspects of ritual, this book brought it to the personal level and gave many examples of rituals for passages that our culture doesn’t have a ritual for, guidance on how to create rituals, examples of ritual elements, and so on. I’ve referred to it many times over the years and loaned it out to people going through experiences that they wished to create a ritual for.

Body Image:

Transforming Body Image: Love the Body You Have by Marcia Hutchinson
This is the classic in the field of body image and has many useful visualizations and exercises designed to foster acceptance and self love.

Fat Chicks Rule! How To Survive in a Thin-Centric World by Lara Frater
Everything you need to know to live a full life instead of putting life on hold until you are thin.

The Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford
In trying to run from and deny our “negative” qualities like selfishness or laziness, we give them more power and enable them to manifest in ways that are unexpected and not always under our conscious control. Ford’s work paves the way to self-acceptance and integration of all our traits, not just the ones we’ve been taught to label as positive or desirable. Sometimes, these so-called negative traits are just the ones we need to find our full potential.

The Book of Qualities by J. Ruth Gendler
I absolutely love this book, and everyone I show it to falls in love with it too. J. Ruth Gendler had the idea to take qualities such as anger, complacency, joy, and contentment and write about them as if they were people. In so doing, she has captured their essence in a poetic and powerful way. I don’t usually seek autographs but I am honored to have an autographed copy. Gendler is also a visual artist and has illustrated her own work.

The Invitation
by Oriah Mountain Dreamer
Her poem, The Invitation, has been shared in emails, on the radio, and read aloud at gatherings. In this book she expands on each section to examine how we can meet pain and fear and live a fiercely authentic life.

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff…and it’s all small stuff
by Richard Carlson, PH.D.
I may disagree with the subtitle, but the essential idea is that most of the things we stress about are small things and if we simply think differently about them we won’t give in to the stress. Along the way he examines issues like perfectionism and other things that hold us back.

Not For Packrats Only: How to Clean Up, Clear Out, and Dejunk Your Life Forever!
By Don Aslett
As a confirmed packrat from a family of packrats, I found this book really useful for decluttering and turn to it again and again when I relapse and am surrounded by too much stuff. He takes a look at everything related to clutter, including the emotional reasons we hang on to stuff, and then gives us strategies to overcome those reasons. I found it really useful to know that I could simply take a picture of some sentimental possessions and keep the picture. A good companion to the show “Clean Sweep” which also deals with the emotional component of clutter.

Growing Old Disgracefully: New Ideas for Getting the Most Out of Life by The Hen Co-op
My friend and former boss, Maxine Myers, helped write this book that turns the notion of a “graceful” old age on its head. How like her! I unfortunately loaned out my autographed copy and never got it back but I recall that she wrote that I was well on my way to a disgraceful old age. If you ever wanted to let go of society’s notion of how old women are supposed to be and act, read this book!

The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chodron
We all have a choice whether to harden and clench our hearts against fear and loss or whether to soften and open ourselves to love even if it means the risk of more loss. Chodron shows us how to do the latter. Chodron also produced an excellent audiotape on Tonglen Meditation.

The Path of Prayer: Reflections on Prayer and True Stories of How it Affects Our Lives by Sophy Burnham
Sophy Burnham examines the universal meaning of prayer from a variety of faiths and personal experiences, looking at the structure of prayers, different kinds of prayer, and how prayer connects us to the divine (or our higher selves for those who are not believers). This is one of the books I take to the hospital and re-read with joy. This is not just a book about “gimme” prayers, rest assured. It is far deeper than that.

Laurel’s Kitchen Caring: Recipes for Everyday Home Caregiving by Laurel Robertson with Carol Lee Flinders & Brian Ruppenthal, R.D.
Sooner or later all of us will either care for a loved one at home or be cared for, when we are ill or recovering from illness. This is a wonderful resource for those times with love and common sense shining through the recipes and advice about how to coax someone with no appetite to eat, how to handle chronic nausea, what foods are suitable for particular illnesses or recoveries, and so much more.

When I Say No, I Feel Guilty by Manuel J. Smith, PH.D.
This is a classic book on assertiveness with all the techniques and great examples. This is the book that helped me stand up to my emotionally abusive family. It contains an assertiveness bill of rights that I found revolutionary


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