I have just finished reading an extraordinary book, a book so remarkable I am making a list of all of the people with whom I will share it. The book is “Jane Brody’s Guide to the Great Beyond: A Practical Primer to Help You and Your Loved Ones Prepare Medically, Legally, and Emotionally for the End of Life.”
Imagine next time you celebrate an occasion, giving your spouse, your child, or children a book about preparation for dying. The idea may seem strange to you. I ask you to suspend your negativity until you've seen this book.
Most people my age have experienced many losses in their life. For me, those losses have included my grandparents, parents, and my dear sister Kay who died of cancer at the age of 47. Many of the vignettes and insights shared by Jane Brody resonated with me.
Brody shared her personal experience of her mother dying in 1958 of complications of ovarian cancer only weeks before Brody graduated from high school. What she described was not much different from the experience of my sister’s children, Kris and Trisha.
More than 10 years after my sister Kay's death, Kris said to me, "Aunt Jeannie, I don't understand why you knew that Mom was dying and no one even told us." It wasn't that Kris and Trisha weren't right there. It's that no one, not even Kay, could or would admit that she was dying. Had she told me? No. I only knew because I was in daily communication with her and my intuition picked up on what was not said to me. Brody encourages me to believe that we can and should learn to talk about death openly.
Brody's wise advice and advocacy is reflected in this note: "From the start, consider the finish." Her comment reminds me of an old saying: "Nobody gets out of here alive." That is not to say that Brody destroys the idea of hope. In fact, she advises hope with a healthy dose of reality.
Brody has provided a wonderful guide to help families negotiate the pitfalls from a time of diagnosis through those inevitable experiences of grief. Her advocacy for palliative and hospice care and the idea of dying what I would call "a good death" provides valuable help for those who are living with a fatal illness, as well as for their family members and caregivers.
Brody's book is organized into 18 chapters, including “Uncertain Future,” “Living Well to the End,” “Hospice and Palliative Care,” “Spiritual Care,” “What to Say,” “Grief” and “Lasting Legacies.” Thus, it's possible to pick the book up and read a few chapters at a time. Each chapter concludes with a list of relevant resources providing the reader with additional information.
Brody's "voice" provides not just a guide to compassionate care, but also a helpful hand to family and caregivers who want to say the right thing and do the right thing when helping loved ones toward the great beyond.
Brody writes hopefully about death, saying, “You’ve got time.” Preparing for death and mending fences can provide great comfort for a dying person. Brody shares personal stories about friends and family that help the reader face a terminal illness with realism and prepare for death with hope, compassion and even humor.
New Yorker cartoons disarm the reader throughout the book. This comic relief is a tasteful and healing ingredient in dealing with such a painful and frightening topic.
Brody provides checklists of things that patients and family members may want to ask doctors and nurses that make this book practical and very useful.
As one who frequently tells clients that "knowledge is power," what impresses me the most about Brody's book is that she provides readers with a sense of empowerment that encourages the reader not just to take charge of our health, but also to take charge of our dying.
The gift Brody shares in her book can help parents prepare their children for death and lead them to healing of grief. A road map guiding people to put their affairs in order, to designate a health care proxy, to plan a funeral or memorial service can ease a dying person's concerns about his or her wishes being carried out, about pain being controlled, and about children not being burdened by having to make decisions that they are, perhaps, ill-prepared to make.
“Guide to the Great Beyond: A Practical Primer to Help You and Your Loved Ones Prepare Medically, Legally, and Emotionally for the End of Life” is available in your local book store and also online.