on June 27, 2000
....read this book!
Over the past few years, when faced with the information that someone I'd known was dying, I did - nothing. Retreating, I was terrified of my own mortality and of what I might do if I were around someone who was dying. Would I say the wrong thing or nothing at all? Would I cry, or do something to inadvertently hurt them? What is dying like? This book is great as a comforting instruction manual on what happens, what to do, and what not to do.
It begins with information about what happens to the body when it is in the process of dying, then moves into experiences the authors have had in dealing with people who are dying, or whose loved ones are dying. They have helpful information throughout the book for those, like me, who were unsure about what to say or do.
They include individual stories about messages people send when they are approaching death and how not to miss them; seeing people who have already died and what that may mean; symbolic dreams and how to let the dreamer find the meaning; choosing a time to die (not by suicide); waiting for a person to arrive or an event to happen.
Family and friends often ignore this precious information. It seems illogical, far out, too much like stories about abduction by aliens. We brush them off as hallucinations, caused by denial or possibly drug-induced.
When I first heard volunteers, nurses and others who work in hospice tell stories of people who have similar Nearing Death Experiences (not to be confused with "Near Death Experiences"), I was dubious. However, in my readings and hospice volunteer work, I find that these stories are universal, timeless and not as new age-y as I'd thought. We've been ignoring these wonderfully soothing stories of how people die, because for years we've moved birthing and dying out of the family and into hospitals. We are beginning to move them back.
If you've lost a loved one, are dealing with someone who is dying (yourself or someone else), if you avoid visiting friends who are dying or if you're struggling with your own awareness that someday you will die, please read this book. It will put your mind at ease.
on May 31, 1999
My father was diagnosed 4 years ago with colon cancer. He endured several operations, many chemotherapy treatments and although he fought to live, he was told in December 98 he had 90 days to live. My aunt bought this book for my mother in December. All 5 children have read it and participated in my fathers death (he passed away on April 23, 1999). This book saved us so much pain and helped the grieving process more than I can say. My dad's final journey was exactly like so many of the trips described in this wonderful book. We helped him pack the car and go home. We miss him terribly but I now believe there is a place much greater than this. (I didn't start reading the book until the afternoon my father was dying and I couldn't believe the things I was seeing before my eyes).
I feel I learned about a "big secret" that mysterious thing called death. I will never be afraid to go once my time comes. Buy a copy for everyone you know is dealing with a terminal illness. This is not just a book for cancer patients or elderly people.
These two woman (and the hospice program) deserve a medal. Thank you for soothing our broken hearts. Bless you all!
on May 27, 2002
Final Gifts is the most practical, empowering book I've ever read.
What I appreciate most about the book is that it is empowering and comforting to both the loved ones of the dying and the dying themselves. In fact, I own 3 copies of Final Gifts and I loan them out to friends, family and acquaintances when I hear they have a loved one who is dying. To a person, they have returned the book to me and said it dramatically changed their lives and their perspective on how to approach their loved one and his/her death.
The book is about the gifts that the dying person has to pass on to the survivors (and vice versa), even when it may seem the dying person is incoherent or drugged beyond understanding (this is often when he/she needs to communicate most). In a nutshell, Final Gifts encourages caretakers and visitors to pay attention to the communications of the dying, to learn the communication methods of the dying (they often use symbols to communicate--the authors explain how to decipher these), and to acknowledge that the dying need those around him/her to be honest about the situation and encourage openness in their communication.
The book is also very comforting in its description of numerous case studies observed by the two authors. They explain what the dying experience (it's actually very positive) and how to let go.
My mom was the primary caretaker of her mother when she was dying in 1984. My mom read this book 15 years after her mother's death, and even after so much time, my mom found comfort in the answers and explanations she discovered in the book. As she read each chapter, my mom would comment to me that she found many connections between her experience with her mother and what she learned in the book...things that were confusing in 1984 now made sense, such as her mother (who had been quite serene and sharp until her final weeks of life) "talking nonsense" at times or becoming agitated in certain moments. My mom just thought her mother was "out of it" due to the drugs, or that perhaps she was experiencing a near-death dementia of some sort, but now she sees that her mother was speaking in symbols, trying to communicate her thoughts and needs, and most importantly, her gifts. My mom is glad she read the book even 15 years after her experience with her mother, but she regrets that she didn't have it when her mother was dying. My mom feels she missed out on a great deal by not having this information, and the book would have been tremendously empowering and comforting during that tumultuous time.
EVERYONE should read this book. EVERYONE--regardless of educational level (it's a fast and easy read), personal or professional background.
When you don't know how to help someone whose loved one is dying, give them this book. I promise, it will aid them and comfort them beyond measure.
on January 5, 2004
"Final Gifts" was suggested to me after I spoke to an old friend who called to talk to me after being told he had a week to live. There were many gems within which helped me to communicate well with him and his wife (another close friend) in his final week of life.
I am very grateful I was able to read this as my friend was dying instead of after he was gone. I strongly suggest people begin reading this book as soon as they know death is possible: before it is imminent.
We need to demystify the dying process and stop being afraid of it. This book does a great service in that direction.
on December 13, 1999
My mother died of ovarian cancer at age 62 in June '98 after 8 long years of fighting. One of the hospice nurses recommended this book before she went into hospice care. I read it, my sister read it and my mother's husband read it before my mom died. Words cannot express the comfort, knowledge and insight it gave us. My sister and I were with mom everynight at the hospice for about 1-1/2 months. We hung onto her every word. Don't ever let anyone tell you that what the dying are saying is nonsence and gibberish. She said some really amazing things that, thanks to the enlightenment of the book, we completely understood. It was uncanny. Every family member should read this book if possible BEFORE the end comes. It helped us more than words can say. Also, I must say hospice care is the way to go, it is SO much better than a hospital. My aunt and Grandmother died in hospitals, of cancer. If we had only known then what we know now.......
God bless all of you who are struggling with this issue. I wish you strength.
on August 2, 2012
I was given this book in recognition of my work as a hospice volunteer earlier this year.
I read it voraciously; the authors have created an eminently readable, informative and encouraging book.
Why only three stars, then?
First, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, Callanan and Kelley manage to promote a particular religious point of view. The insights of the dying are no doubt accurate, but the interpretation here is clearly a Christian one.
Does that mean the Christian view of the afterlife is the "correct" one? Does it mean the authors -- both Christians -- have shaped the presentation to meet their particular world views? Have they applied their own beliefs to phenomena that could potentially be explained and interpreted otherwise?
The second critique I have is more serious: Every single story ends with a calm, peaceful death. Everyone simply dies a day later, or in their sleep. Often, the dying make sage or prescient pronouncements, then simply die an hour later, as if they are simply changing clothes.
In reality, this is not the case. The body often struggles mightily to hold on to life, even when their is pain and discomfort. Families and friends should not be deceived into thinking that such peaceful, cinematic deaths are the norm; they are not.
That doesn't mean the dying are suffering, however. The body has its own wisdom, if you will, and the process -- when not interfered with by unnecessary interventions, pointless hydration, forced nutrition, etc. -- is in its own way peaceful. Patients near the end will typically struggle to breathe, present a "death rattle" that disturbs many people (my aunt insisted on applying "suction" to clear out phlegm from my father's throat as he was in his last hours; each time the tube was inserted, his weak body squirmed and hands lifted from the bed in barely perceptible motions of protest) and even make moaning or crying noises.
In that sense, I think the book does a disservice to families facing the death of a loved one.
Nonetheless, the overall compassionate approach and advocacy for hospice care is welcome.
on July 5, 2001
I took a college class on Death and Dying a few years back and this was one of the books we were required to read. I can honestly say that it really changed my view of dying in a positive way. It was not the easiest book I've ever read (I still remember reading it on my lunch break and crying right in the middle of a very busy Wendy's restaurant), but definitely one of the most useful. I can't tell you how many people I have loaned this to - people who have just experienced death, and those who are caring for a loved one who is near death. In fact, I bought a copy of this book and donated it to my church in hopes that others will find comfort in reading it. The people I have loaned it to who had already lost a loved one said they wished they would have read it sooner so they could have better understood the stages their loved one went through before passing away. Needless to say, my original copy from college is pretty dog-eared, so I'm going to buy another for myself and one to have around when a friend needs it.
on September 27, 2007
I hate to be a wet blanket because so many people have drawn so much strength from this book. I found it to be extremely helpful in learning to listen to the symbolic language of dying people--a perspective that, in itself, is worth the read. It troubles me, however, that almost all of the deaths were reported as peaceful, even joyous, that almost all family members were healthy and fulfilled. Most of the dying people were young, smart, and/or extremely articulate.
I would have appreciated an account that included the not-so-pretty experiences of death--the ambiguous, ambivalent, hard, messy parts.
Including those pieces would have made the book more helpful.
The interventions of the authors were somehow just too neat and tidy.
on May 1, 2002
Death: a depressing topic, one to be dealt with only when absolutely necessary and avoided the rest of the time? This book, in its own small, quiet, but unflinchingly honest way, will change your opinion about the topic.
And if you have family or a friend dying slowly, as I did (my grandmother) when I first saw Maggie Callahan on public TV, this book is also a practical resource that answers questions, soothes concerns and literally can transform relationships. Through it I was able to come to terms with my lack of power to change certain things, to appreciate what time I had left, communicate openly and honestly with both my grandmother and other family members, and come to prevent what I'm sure might have been regret along with my grief when she passed.
The authors explain the dying process in detail that would be excruciating if it weren't so sensitively and lovingly handled. More important, they get into spiritual issues concerning how the dying communicate in sometimes cryptic or symbolic ways. Out of the many anecdotes in the book, culled from the authors' wide experiences as hospice nurses, comes a wonderfully reassuring, even magical appreciation of the mysteries of life, death, the spaces in between, what it means to be human, and how the right approach to dying can be spiritually healing.
Whether for practical application or just as an exploration of our own nature--and a fascinating one at that--this book is well worth the easy, rewarding read.
on December 14, 1999
I was lucky: a friend, a hospice volunteer, gave me a copy of this book during the last six months of my father's life. (He passed away in December 1996, while in hospice care, of complications of lymphoma and pancreatic cancer.) I read the book in a day or two, and immediately passed it on to my mother, brother, uncle. We were all with him at the end and we were able to let him go with understanding and dignity. It was again helpful three months later when my 98 year old grandmother passed away. This book has been so helpful that I now keep copies on hand for friends facing the same struggle. I even gave copies to my ministers in hopes that they will gain from it personally as well as pass it to others facing the loss of loved ones. Read it before you need it, and then read it again.