Book Review — The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying: Enhancing the End of Life

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I am delighted to share with you a very thoughtful and reflective review of my book. This review appears in The Natural Transitions Magazine, which is available in both hard copy and E-version. To get your copy visit HERE!

 

 

By Lee Webster

What does it mean to die a good death? Sure, we all have a fair idea of the self-explanatory concept, but have we really thought out the nuts and bolts of it? Have we taken the time or made the effort in a clear, compassionate, and all-encompassing way to envision our own end or the end of a loved one?

The Amateur’s Guide to Death and Dying: Enhancing the End of Life is not a book for a good night’s read, cozying up to the fire. In fact, it’s not exactly a book at all in the conventional sense. Wagner begins by introducing the reader to ten characters who make up an imaginary death and dying support group. Each has his or her own baggage, concerns, fears, and life experiences.AGDD_front cover

In ten weeks—ten chapters—each expresses valuable and, at times, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to the group, while exploring the issues of death and dying. Wagner then invites the reader to participate in the virtual group, to write in an included workbook, and do check-ins, exercises, and homework that have been designed to stimulate the reader’s personal thoughts and observations while sharing in the struggles and epiphanies expressed by characters in the book.

For many of us, the prospect of facing our own mortality and that of those we love within a real group setting would be excruciating. The Amateur’s Guide makes a fictitious group event into a supported solitary pursuit, allowing the reader to wade through difficult emotional waters at his or her own pace, and to linger with thoughts and insights while simultaneously “observing” the reactions of other participants in the group—all on paper. It’s a unique approach to self-exploration within community.

“All of this,” Wagner writes, “is designed to help make the end of life less of an intimidating process and more of a rich, poignant transition.”

Written in an engaging, deeply human style, the characters come to life through both burdens and revelations. They remind us of the vastly different roles our families play in forming our outlook and capacity for internalizing and coping with our own deaths. They remind us that our historical and cultural context has formed our attitudes towards death and that a renegotiation is required if we are not comfortable with the prevailing messages.

They remind us that as much as we say we live in a death-defying culture, we spend an awful lot of time flirting with death. And that love becomes the intrinsic focus of the death experience—whether love is or was present becomes paramount in defining our relationship to death, both personally and universally.

There is no limit to the reminders provided in this book that will potentially bring readers into sharper consciousness regarding mortality and, more importantly, help integrate a deeper understanding of death into our waking lives through faithful participation in this valuable process.

The many practical (telling someone where to find the keys) and spiritual (are you in a right relationship with yourself, friends, family, God?) topics are presented to help center the reader on what is important in the moment to mindfully prepare for death. The exercises Wagner offers are worth the time and effort. After all, what other resource is likely to provide an opportunity to write your own obituary?

 

Lee Webster writes from her home in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. She is a frequent public speaker on the benefits of home funerals and green burial, a freelance writer, conservationist, gardener, quilt maker, and hospice volunteer.

Contact Lee at
turningleafhomefunerals@gmail.com

Be sure to visit our colleagues at Natural Transitions and support their work.

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