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Every day in this country, ten thousand people a day will apply for Social Security this year, as the baby boom generation moves into retirement. That means that, in the next decade or two, everyday 10,000 people over the age of 65 will face the end of the lives. If each of these 10,000 deaths affects only five people, nearly 20 million people a year will experience the death of an older person that was important in their lives. As individuals, and as a nation, we are poorly prepared to manage this Silver Tsunami. Only 30% of the adult population has filed any official paperwork about their preferences for end of life. Even fewer have had a discussion with friends or family about how they want to die, what they consider good quality of life, or how they want to be remembered. It seems likely that if millions of older people die without telling anyone what they want at the end of life, survivors will experience unnecessary emotional stress and, often, family conflict.

In this book, we try to head off that disaster. We outline how the institutions of death and dying are likely to change over the next two decades. With a big push from the baby boomers, the death system in America now offers a greater of array positive choices for the final phase of life. Baby boomers have influenced all of the major institutions of our culture, from birthing (the natural birth movement and La Leche), to education (overcrowded schools and colleges, online degrees), marriage, family and work. They are also beginning to change how we die as well. Today, people are living for many years with an acute awareness that their remaining time is limited, inspiring them to find new ways to experience comfort and joy, even productivity, in the last years of life.

You’ll discover a multitude of new ideas about self-care, living arrangements, medical, and personal relationships at the end of life. You’ll learn how to start a conversation about end of life with your family and friends. We’ll outline the choices that are available to you should you become terminally ill, including all the measures that might be available to sustain your life. We’ll walk you through ways you can make your wishes about end of life clear, including a review of the forms, the legalities, and the blind alleys.

In this book, you’ll also find out how caretakers manage their lives and the lives of those they care for. We’ll talk about emotional stressors and practical problems as well as the benefits of helping someone who is living with a life-threatening illness. What are the toughest issues? What resources are available? How can you attend to your own needs while giving so much to someone else? What can you do to make this experience as positive as possible for everyone in the family, including yourself?

We’ll look at the research on hospice and palliative care, as well as dying in a hospital vs. dying at home. You’ll find out how funerals are changing, and how the growing diversity of the population is creating new choices and new rituals. We’ll even discuss the costs of various ways to handle the body and memorialize the deceased.

You’ll find an extensive review of the research on grief and bereavement. How does the peaceful death of an older people affect those close to them? What happens to survivors when someone commits suicide or dies from a natural disaster or accident? How does the death of a child or an adolescent affect the bereaved? What kind of interventions are possible when someone experiences a prolonged of complicated grief.

Finally, we consider some of the great mysteries of dying. What is a deathbed vision or near-death experience? What does it tell us about living? You’ll discover how an encounter with death can affect the living. There is always the possibility of renewal and the infusion of new meaning when we survive a traumatic experience. Researchers call it post-traumatic growth, and we outline the factors that support this positive development.

Must of what we report in this book is derived from the latest journal articles and handbooks on death and dying, as well as government reports and accounts of personal experiences. We designed the book so that you can read it out of sequence. Start anywhere. Begin with the topic that most important to you at the moment. Each chapter is short, and none of the information depends on reading the chapter before. Feel free to use this book however suits your changing needs and immediate curiosities.

The end of life holds hidden possibilities. It’s not just a dead end, nor does it have to be filled with unbearable sorrow. This point the way to how we can live with love and dignity to the very end.