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The Amateur's Guide to Death and Dying: Enhancing the End of Life Paperback – May 16, 2012
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I am an atheist. So hard core an atheist that I have started an atheist "Meet up group" on Whidbey Island, WA, where I live. Some of my best friends are religious believers. I do volunteer work at a local Lutheran Church.
When I was in my forties, I thought I would die from a heart attack, because my father (whom I detested) had died of his second heart attack, at the age of 43. To my surprise, I am now 69 years old, and surprisingly healthy, though I can feel body parts breaking down. Nevertheless, I can feel that I am dying. As I work out at the gym, or in my garden, my mind goes into denial. (See Ernst Becker's underground classic book, "DENIAL OF DEATH"). My mind also says, "Yes, you will, Stephen. Are you ready?"
I consider the book excellent, even though I hated the experience of reading it and dealing with the topic of my demise, and felt great reluctance to do all the tasks and exercises. (To give myself some credit, I have, before encountering, much less reading, this book, made out my will; filled out a batch of advanced directives, though I need to check what I have done carefully against the list-recommendations in your book; written my eulogy and told my wife and daughter I wish it to be sent to the local newspaper (it defiantly and arrogantly proclaims my atheism), indicated I want my body disposed of in the cheapest and simplest way; and told my daughter she can do whatever she wants in the way of memorial services to get closure. I have identified several "last projects" I want to do before I die and I am working on finishing them fairly expeditiously. (Excuse me, while I pat myself on the back.)
The only criticism I have is that my aging mind could not well keep track of or remember all the names, circumstances, and personalities of the people in the group introduced in "Check In," in the first chapter, I might write up a concise "cheat sheet" "cast of characters" that might be included with future editions of the book as a loose sheet or pull-out or rip out card for the convenience of fumbly-minded people such as myself, and send it to Richard as an attachment. As others have noted, a "bookmark" to be included with the book might be useful and appreciated.
About the only other minor cavil I have is that Woody Allen (quotes from him open many of the chapters) really rubs me the wrong way, but no biggee.
I intend to read the book again with more concentration and diligence, I hope before it is too late. Although it's obviously not a popular product/project to get people to deal with death in advance of its final approach, I hope to get at least one group of people together for a seminar led by Richard before it is too late for him and/or for me. So if you live on Whidbey Island, WA, and are game to participate, please contact me at eman underline modnar at yahoo dot com.
I feel that way about this book. I really enjoyed it. I will go back through it a few times as I think, as some of the characters said, they didn't get as much out of it the first time especially in the early sessions as they had to work through some of their issues. I don't think that was my problem. I just think that there is so much to absorb and each time going through it, I could improve my absorbsion and get more out of each exercise.
Great job Richard! I would say it is one of the best self-help books one could read. By learning how to die, I can learn how to live better.
Several months ago I became acquainted with Richard Wagner Ph.D and had the pleasure to read his book The Amateur's Guide to Death and Dying. His work with people facing end of life issues is inspired and I admire his fearless approach to going into territory most consider taboo and awkward. Richard Wagner has been working with terminally ill, chronically ill, elder and dying people in hospital, hospice, and home settings for over 30 years. What he writes about is not coming from theory, but from many sessions with groups over the years refining his approach.
I found The Amateur's Guide is a valuable contribution to the body of work available for coming to terms with end of life issues. This is something I wish I had when my wife was alive because it would have provided us a great format to have those important and uncomfortable conversations in an engaging way. At the very least it would have provided us a good platform to work with.
This is not a passive book. Richard Wagner takes an approach that makes the reader part of the story. In it you become one of the participants in his work group along with a number of people coming from different cultural backgrounds dealing with a variety of issues from cancer to old age. You are a participant, not a fly on the wall, and if you allow yourself to enter his world and take the exercises to heart you will find yourself going through a very fulfilling process. For this reason I feel that this book must be approached when you or your loved one has the appropriate energy and mental acuity to take it all in. There are 10 members in the group, and if you intend to follow their contribution to the group it takes some effort but it is worth it.
I was so impressed with Richard's approach and the experience behind the book that I felt I needed to meet him and do an interview to understand what went in to the writing of the book. We met by phone. It's a wonderful interview and if you would like to read the text of it it's on my blog site "conscious-departures". The interview was posted on October 24th 2012 and is entitled Facing Mortality Head On.