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A good death: Jane Brody's Guide to the Great Beyond

hannah.jpgI 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.

You can listen to an interview of Jane Brody on the Diane Rehm show. [Windows Media] [Real Audio]

“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.

  • Jill Eurick

    Thank you for calling this book to my attention. I previewed it on Random House’s web site http://tinyurl.com/cy7tvl and I see what you mean. Jane Brody writes in a very compassionate and down to earth tone.

    • http://goodmedicalcare.com Jeanne Hannah

      Random House has a couple of chapters for review. Or stop by your local book store to glance through the book. I plan to buy several to share with family and friends.

  • Jill Eurick

    Thank you for calling this book to my attention. I previewed it on Random House's web site http://tinyurl.com/cy7tvl and I see what you mean. Jane Brody writes in a very compassionate and down to earth tone.

  • http://www.record-eagle.com Record-Eagle Webmaster

    Thank you for your message.

    I'm out of the office Tuesday, April 14, returning Wednesday. I'll respond to your message at that time. Have a great day!

    Jeanne Ehinger
    Traverse City Record-Eagle

  • John Callahan

    The Hannah review of the Brody book is a most welcome addition to the scant literature of handling the family’s need for information that is direct and to the point for managing the “business” of death in a sensible manor while dealing with the realities. Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with a Stage 4 cancer and advised to “put your papers in order.” We formed a Brody-like group of immediate family members. The Brody book guidlines would have helped considerably.

    • http://goodmedicalcare.com Jeanne Hannah

      I agree with your comment, John, that Brody’s guidelines are helpful. Something Brody wrote that I found particularly helpful was this: she recommends tape recording the conference with a doctor at the time of diagnosis because it’s hard to remember later what was said – even if you take notes or have someone with you. Another time tape recording would be helpful is at time of discharge. Latest research shows that discharge from hospital to home or another care setting results in a high rate of complications because transitions in care and mis-communications often result in medication errors or complications. Having the conversation on tape to re-play could really help reinforce the discharging doctor’s (i.e., the hospitalist’s) recommendations and help the primary care doctor with follow-up.

  • John Callahan

    The Hannah review of the Brody book is a most welcome addition to the scant literature of handling the family's need for information that is direct and to the point for managing the “business” of death in a sensible manor while dealing with the realities. Eleven years ago I was diagnosed with a Stage 4 cancer and advised to “put your papers in order.” We formed a Brody-like group of immediate family members. The Brody book guidlines would have helped considerably.

  • http://www.record-eagle.com Record-Eagle Webmaster

    Thank you for your message.

    I'm out of the office Tuesday, April 14, returning Wednesday. I'll respond to your message at that time. Have a great day!

    Jeanne Ehinger
    Traverse City Record-Eagle

  • http://goodmedicalcare.com Jeanne Hannah

    Random House has a couple of chapters for review. Or stop by your local book store to glance through the book. I plan to buy several to share with family and friends.

  • http://goodmedicalcare.com Jeanne Hannah

    I agree with your comment, John, that Brody's guidelines are helpful. Something Brody wrote that I found particularly helpful was this: she recommends tape recording the conference with a doctor at the time of diagnosis because it's hard to remember later what was said – even if you take notes or have someone with you. Another time tape recording would be helpful is at time of discharge. Latest research shows that discharge from hospital to home or another care setting results in a high rate of complications because transitions in care and mis-communications often result in medication errors or complications. Having the conversation on tape to re-play could really help reinforce the discharging doctor's (i.e., the hospitalist's) recommendations and help the primary care doctor with follow-up.

  • Kris

    Great writing. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kris

    Great writing. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ruth Miller, RN

    I just read your column from April 12, ’09. Jane Brody’s book sounds like a great addition to my ‘end of life library’, which includes “Worried Sick”, by Nortin M. Hadler, M.D. and “Last Rights”, by Stephen P. Kiernan. My nursing carreer has involved birthing babies to geriatrics and all in-be-tween. We have classes to prepare one for everything except “The End”.
    Thank you!

    • http://goodmedicalcare.com/ Jeanne M Hannah

      Ruth, thank you for taking the time to respond to this post. I am happy that you agree about the value of Jane Brody’s book. It is so important that reliable information and assistance is available for family caregivers – particularly about end-of-life issues that many doctors and/or nurses are not trained or able to respond to. These important questions and concerns of family caregivers are addressed in Brody’s book which is a wonderful addition to your toolkit. Thank you for putting it there. Jeanne M Hannah

  • Ruth Miller, RN

    I just read your column from April 12, '09. Jane Brody's book sounds like a great addition to my 'end of life library', which includes “Worried Sick”, by Nortin M. Hadler, M.D. and “Last Rights”, by Stephen P. Kiernan. My nursing carreer has involved birthing babies to geriatrics and all in-be-tween. We have classes to prepare one for everything except “The End”.
    Thank you!

  • http://goodmedicalcare.com/ Jeanne M Hannah

    Ruth, thank you for taking the time to respond to this post. I am happy that you agree about the value of Jane Brody's book. It is so important that reliable information and assistance is available for family caregivers – particularly about end-of-life issues that many doctors and/or nurses are not trained or able to respond to. These important questions and concerns of family caregivers are addressed in Brody's book which is a wonderful addition to your toolkit. Thank you for putting it there. Jeanne M Hannah

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