A sometimes inspiring, sometimes quotidian guide to life, distilled from the experiences of people who faced death.
Most of what the dying discover (about themselves and about their lives) is “usually too late to apply,” according to Kübler-Ross, best known for On Death and Dying (1991). She and hospice-worker Kessler (The Rights of the Dying, not reviewed) hope to motivate readers to work on “unfinished business” before they approach the end. Based on their experiences, case histories generally take the form of “I walked through the valley of the shadow of death and learned a lesson. . . . ” These are the lessons, 15 in all, ranging in subject from love and loss through fear, anger, patience, and happiness. Many of them are variations on familiar, almost trite, themes: find your authentic self, express your anger, learn to receive as well as give, remember that forgiveness is good for the soul. Others challenge very basic assumptions: it is not true, we are told, that children learn to love from being loved by their parents—in fact, most children are not loved so much as rewarded for good behavior. Kübler-Ross’s own experience of pain (she is now partially paralyzed as a result of a stroke) adds depth to these lessons: she describes how she struggled with—and vehemently expressed—anger over her fate and is still unable to forgive some who took advantage of her helplessness to steal from her.
Over-the-counter remedies for spiritual malaise—but sometimes plain aspirin works better than more sophisticated prescriptions.