When I discovered that one of my colleagues wrote a book, I couldn’t wait to read it. The book is Celebrating Death: A Guidebook for Dying Well by Esther Shapiro, R.N., Msc.D.
The author comes by her expertise regarding death both personally and professionally, and she generously shares her hard-won insights regarding her experiences from both.
Right from the start, I connected with the stories in this book. When the author describes her NDE (Near Death Experience), I was reminded of my own that occurred when I was four years old, when I almost drowned in the lake. The kids I was playing with kept pushing my head under the water, over and over, until I couldn’t figure out which way was up to get out of the water. And then I stopped trying. I saw a very bright light and felt filled with peace. I was not at all fearful. I was just floating and being…until my dad ran in, fully clothed and still wearing his shoes, and pulled me from the water (full disclosure: I don’t actually remember that part).
The author also shares her experience as a hospice nurse. My own two years as a hospice nurse were bookended by the deaths of first my mother and then my father from cancer, and I share Esther’s dissatisfaction with the allopathic medical model and how cancer patients are treated within it. “But to see the Doctors instilling false hope into both the patient and the family is more than I can handle. And, I am trained and expected to go along with it. It makes me sick inside.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.
She also introduces the idea of one’s death experience being on a spectrum from good to bad…to very bad. My own parents’ deaths illustrated this. My mother had the worst death of any that I have ever witnessed, bar none. My father had one of the best. They both had cancer and died at home with hospice within about two years of their diagnosis, but their outcomes were very different.
The idea of an individual choosing their moment of death is also explored in this book. I believe, as the author does, that we choose our time to go, and it doesn’t matter if there is a 24/7 vigil by the bedside. If the person wants to be alone when they pass, then they will. I further agree with her that children shouldn’t be shielded from death and dying. I practice what I preach; my son went to his first wake when he was about 3 weeks old.
One of the more powerful parts of Celebrating Death is when the author tells a story first from the point of view of the cancer patient, and then from the point of view of the patient’s significant other who, as is so often the case, was also his primary caregiver. I was moved to tears of heartbreak as well as outrage by what happened to them.
So, this sort of became ‘all about me’ here, but this is one of the gifts of this book: it will remind you of, and help you to work through, your own feelings and personal encounters with death. In this way, Celebrating Death can be transformational and healing for you, dear reader.
This belongs on your bookshelf next to your Elisabeth Kubler-Ross volumes. It was an honor and a privilege to read this book.
NOTE: Esther Shapiro’s book Celebrating Death is also available on Kindle.