A hospice chaplain passes on wisdom on giving meaning to life, from those taking leave of it.
As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan didn't offer sermons or prayers unless they were requested; in fact, she found, the dying rarely want to talk about God, at least not overtly. Instead she discovered she'd been granted an invaluable chance to witness firsthand what she calls the "spiritual work of dying" - the work of finding or making meaning of one's life, the experiences it's contained, and the people who have touched it, the betrayals, wounds, unfinished business, and unrealized dreams. Instead of talking she mainly listened: to stories of hope and regret, shame and pride, mystery and revelation and secrets held too long. Most of all, though, she listened as her patients talked about love - love for their children and partners and friends; love they didn't know how to offer; love they gave unconditionally; love they learned, sometimes belatedly, to grant themselves.
This isn't a book about dying - it's a book about living. And Egan isn't just passively bearing witness to these stories. An emergency procedure during the birth of her first child left her physically whole but emotionally and spiritually adrift. Her work as a hospice chaplain healed her from a brokenness she came to see we all share. Each of her patients taught her something - how to find courage in the face of fear or the strength to make amends; how to be profoundly compassionate and fiercely empathetic; how to see the world in grays instead of black and white. In this poignant, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along all their precious and necessary gifts.
"In her sophomore outing, Egan masters the art of imparting critical life advice without coming off as preachy - a difficult feat...Egan's empathetic tone is a comfort for both the healthy and the dying - whom, she opines, are not polar opposites.... As the title suggests, this is not just a book about dying. It's one that will inspire readers to make the most of every day." (Publishers Weekly)
"Powerful...in this quick read, Egan takes readers on an emotional journey through many unforgettable lives." (Booklist)
"[Egan's] anecdotes are often thought-provoking combinations of sublime humor and tragic pathos.... A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran." (Kirkus Reviews)
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This is the best book I have read this year.
Does it make sense to you that crying, again and again, while you hear someone's story is a good thing? Have you ever read a book that makes you hope that somehow in your next incarnation you could continue the author's work? Help me, please. Was it Holden Caulfield who said something about wanting to pick up a phone and have a conversation with a favorite author? I can't speak for you, but I wanted to hug her, so many times.
I would recommend this to anyone, but if I needed to say which author and book I would put on the shelf beside it, it would be BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott.
I'm gushing here. [The defense rests, your honor.] I would ask for a sequel, but I can tell how difficult it would be for the author to be there to hear her patients tell there stories, and then write those stories in a journal, and rewrite and revise and go through the muddy obstacle course of getting it published and promoted. I have no doubt that I will read this one again and again.
Kerry Egan has consistently and dramatically shared the intimacy of her own life and the stories of her hospice clients with such a profound frankness and clarity that as a cab driver who has listened to similar stories for more than forty years, I can only regret that I had not read this years ago. I wish that I could have asked better questions of my people, and been more attentive when they spoke.
This is the author narrating her own work. I am, once again, indebted to FRESH AIR with Terry Gross for bringing her to my attention.
I am slightly more than halfway through. The most recent moment was when she told how she learned to ask her evangelical clients to describe the day that they were saved. Even for someone who is skeptical of that entire theology, her story was illuminating.
I am sure that in time, I could find some additional reasons to recommend this splendid book, but I am going to be selfish and go back to reading it.
- Daniel Humphreys "Support Public Radio"
- Annette Marshall