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on January 26, 2009
I have scanned the market of books about caretakers and the dying process, and to me this is the finest book available on the subject.

It is cut-to-the-bone view of dying with many personal case stories.

The book is in my view not so well-structured. It is divided in sections, but these overlap, and it seems more like a long association about dying, care-taking and the death process. Sometimes the subject in focus is elaborated and sometimes there is a lot of condensed knowledge in a few sentences.

But it doesn't matter.

You are taken on a journey by this book. It contains so much knowledge (years of experience in the field), so much good advice for living more fully, and so many obvious ways to handle the dying process.

The book describes subjects only rarely found in other similar books - how to take care of the body after death (which can be tremendous healing for grievers I must say from personal experience) and the shadow side of caregiving.

I especially like the description of the dissolution of the elements just before death - indeed what it feels like physically to die - experienced from the inside!

It contains many touching stories, and simple, yet profound sentences of great wisdom - summations of experience from Joan's many hours and years on the bedside of dying fellow human beings.

I only read about 20-30 pages a day to have time to think about and absorb the knowledge in the book.

It is stressed again and again that there are no single good way to die. What the dying person experiences can be so very different from what family, friends, and caretakers experience from the outside.

Each chapter is followed by meditations, which can be used on your own or together with a dying person (well, aren't we all!)

And after completing the book - in the end you end up wishing Joan or somebody trained by her could be there for your own death. And that's kind of a compliment... ;-)
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on March 11, 2012
BEING WITH DYING is specifically aimed at professional caregivers, but non-professional caregivers, such as family members and friends who provide caregiving for a dying person, will find excellent support to guide them along their spiritual path.

With unflinching honesty and deep compassion for the dying person, Halifax explores all the aspects of dying and death that, in being with a dying person, a caregiver may experience. She deals with the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional processes that dying activates and how this affects both the dying person and those around him.

There was some bias against family members and friends acting as caregivers to the dying. All her empathy lies with the dying person, which is as it should be, but Halifax is, at times, quite unsympathetic to the emotional pain, suffering and struggle from the family caregivers' side. Her negative view of caretaker archetypes reveals a subtle disdain for the role of family caregivers.

Unfortunately, this slightly detracts from the inherent wisdom of her advice and Buddhist philosophy. Not all of us have the temperament or self-mastery to become a detached caregiver. All non-professional caregivers do is try to give their loved ones the best that they can out of love. Yes, with hindsight, the mistakes they make may have made dying more difficult for the departing soul, but the resulting guilt also makes the loss harder to bear even when the non-professional caregiver knows the loved one's soul is finally at peace. Halifax's compassion was all for the dying and there was very little left over for the family members living for years in that strange limbo between deep love, anticipatory grief, impending loss and physical exhaustion.

Despite this, the wise reflections, the meditations and the practical advice presented in BEING WITH DYING helped me through the very trying time of my beloved Father's active dying. Coincidentally, I started reading this book the night he had his third and final stroke, and I finished it 11 days later, the day after his funeral.

I regret that I only found this book three years after my role as caregiver to my Father began, because I can see the mistakes I made, despite having help from a professional caregiver for the last 18 months. But I do gain some small comfort from the fact that, in the 6 days it took my beloved Father to actively die, I feel this book truly helped me ease his path slightly (by just sitting quietly with him and following his lead.) I also found the breathing meditations helped me calm my mind and relax my body during this intensely emotional time.

Ultimately, BEING WITH DYING was a worthwhile and comforting read for me. I highly recommend BEING WITH DYING, no matter what stage of the caregiver's role you are currently in.
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on April 5, 2010
A friend of mine who is dying of cancer suggested I read this book because it had helped her deal with her prognosis. It helped relieve the rage I felt, especially because I have three other friends with cancer. It gave me a sense of peace and the ability to open myself to their needs and the inevitable. A must have as a reference to help one cope with dying friends.
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on October 7, 2008
Death is as much a part of life as living, but most people do not fear life. "Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death" is Joan Halifax's explanation why one should not fear death. A Buddhist teacher who has worked with the dying for much of her life, she uses the teachings of her religion to help inspire those of any faith to be better be prepared for what is inevitable, and live for the time they have now. "Being With Dying" is informed and inspiring, making it a recommendation for those who want to further appreciate life.
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on May 21, 2011
I am deeply grateful that I stumbled upon this book. This book was an anchor to me when my mom was in hospice in my home for the last two months of her life. As I was caring for my dying mother, I was also caring for my two month old who my mother had helped me give birth to in my home. Each time I began to panic at the fear of impending loss of my mother, my best friend, I would pick up this book and be reminded of the normalcy and inevitability of death, just as normal and inevitable as birth.

Joan Halifax shares many stories of her experience with death and dying, which I found a great comfort, having not yet experienced death or profound loss in my life. She reminds us that no has escaped death, not Jesus, Mohamed or Buddha. Her writing also helped me let go of any idea or story about how my mother's last weeks and ultimate passing would or should look like. It helped me be more present with my mom and meet her and myself in each moment as we were - in all the beauty, light and love as well as the confusion, darkness and sorrow.
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on February 26, 2011
I purchased this book when my mother first went on Hospice care. It is very thought provoking and I was fortunate to have some of the hospice staff to talk with about many of those thoughts. However, it is not just for such times: This book can be a great help in learning to take stock of what is truly important in life - we are all dying, just do not know when. I hope when I die I can do it was grace not just for myself but for my children and this book was quite good in helping me sort though obstacles to that goal.
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on August 20, 2008
Healthy, clear, concise guidance, including reflective meditation to care for those who are dying.

At the same time in developing compassion and fearlessness to face the dying, it concurrently provides a guide for healthy living.

Who knows what is most important in life? Those who deny it and live on in ignorant bliss, or those for whom it is already knocking on their door.
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on August 12, 2012
I agree with other reviewers who have praised this book so highly. There is tremendous wisdom in it and though Halifax comes out of a Buddhist perspective, I have found that there is a great deal in Buddhism that can, and often is integrated with other faiths. I have known Christian Buddhists (or Buddhist Christians)and Jewish Buddhists. I don't know if it can be integrated into Islam but I would be surprised if it can't.

Buddhist beliefs about death as simply a transition in the greater picture of life also lend themselves to application of true love and compassion in a setting where someone is dying, so it's not surprising that so many Buddhists have gotten involved in the hospice movement. Seeing death as not an end, or a loss or tragedy or catastrophe, but as something positive is an attitude that can be very beneficial to the dying and their loved ones.

This is not a book with practical advice for caregivers but if they have the chance so saturate themselves with Halifax's wisdom, they will know what to do in a practical sense. After I finished reading, with a lot of highlighting, I read it again.

I am working on an annotated bibliography for the hospice where I volunteer and so far I have read fifteen or sixteen books on care for the dying. Two others with a Buddhist perspective which I would highly recommend are Merrill Collett's AT HOME WITH DYING and Christine Longaker's FACING DEATH AND FINDING HOPE. Longaker's, in particular, is almost the equal of this book. Incidentally, I am a practicing, singing Christian but I've always had tremendous curiosity.

If you want to learn more explicitly about Buddhist beliefs about death, I recommend Sogyal Rinpoche's THE TIBETAN BOOK OF LIVING AND DYING. Sogyal has worked a lot in the West and his book was written for a Western audience. Christine Longaker worked with Sogyal and talks a lot about him.

When I am writing a review for this bibliography, one perspective I like to consider is whether I would want the author caring for me if and when I am dying in a hospice or home hospice setting. Joan Halifax is at the top of my list, equaled only by Marie de Hennezel, though there are many others who were close to the top.
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on October 19, 2014
Not always an easy read if you are in the middle of a death - but a very necessary read. I recommend it to anyone that is looking to learn about themselves. How you die is not just abstract it is going to happen, take some control - I am NOT religious, this book is not about that, it is about the fact that you will die and can do it well, for you and for friends and family. If you are a caregiver you have to read this. I am caring for my husband who has cancer. How long we have is not known, but it is not years. Get past your fear of death and just read this book. Joan is an amazing woman, would love to meet her.
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on January 9, 2010
This book will give you understanding about dying and death. If you are anxious about the body getting ill and going through transformation from this world to whatever is next, read it. You will learn from a Buddhist Monk who is experienced as a teacher and wise woman. Ms. Holifax writes like you are her long time friend. I feel very comfortable reading about death and dying while reading this book.
We all need to learn more about this mystery of life. We all need to realize we all go through what she writes. And the experience can be good if we learn from her.
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