The Divine Art Of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying by Karen SpeerstraThe Divine Art Of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying by Karen Speerstra

The Divine Art Of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying

byKaren SpeerstraContribution byHerbert AndersonForeword byIra Byock M.d.

Paperback | September 1, 2014

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The Divine Art of Dyinglooks at the unique moment when a person turns toward death and examines what the dying person and their caregivers can expect. Based on the author’s own current experience, it’s about how we might die well and live well up to the very end of our physical existence. Combining personal stories with solid research on palliative and hospice care, this book identifies the decisions the dying one and his or her loved ones and friends must make. Unlike other books on dying,The Divine Art of Dyingtakes a broader approach than just a medical one. It is not a “case book” but rather a well integrated look at the divine art of living and dying to the fullest, that includes spiritual insights from many sources along with references from literature, movies, and current culture.
Karen Speerstra is an award-winning author. Her previous Divine Arts titleSophia: The Feminine Face of God(ISBN: 978-1611250046) won the 2013 Nautilus gold award. Written in a very readable style,The Divine Art Of Dyingaddresses real and common fears and the challenges of letting go and handing over a life. The book introduces new concepts to the body of writing on death and dying.
It explains the medical complexities of end-of-life choices and gives helpful advice to caregivers to the dying in every chapter.
and authentically chronicles the author’s own dying process.
Foreword by author and internationally recognized authority on hospice and palliative care Dr. Ira Byock.
Karen Speerstrais the author of ten books including the Nautilus gold metal winner,Sophia: the Feminine Face of God. A mother of two grown sons, Karen lived with her husband John in Randolph Center, Vermont, surrounded by her labyrinth and gardens. She passed away on November 13, 2013.
Title:The Divine Art Of Dying: How to Live Well While DyingFormat:PaperbackDimensions:280 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.75 inPublished:September 1, 2014Publisher:Michael Wiese ProductionsLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1611250234

ISBN - 13:9781611250237

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From the Author

Karen Speerstra on the intention and hopes for this titleWriting about dying, while "in the act," is a bit like writing a mountaineering guidebook while hanging off the North Face of K2 with wind clawing at your face. I wanted this book to be as authentic as possible, and still offer readers other ways of approaching this final stage of our lives in ways that may not necessarily be "my" way. For that reason, Herbert and I include dozens of stories from people who are family members, care-givers or others who are at that point we call our "blessed recognition." It's that point when we know that no more treatment is advisable or necessary.  We realize now that death isn't just around the corner--it's standing on the sidewalk waving at us.We need not fear death even though we do. We need not fear pain even though we do. Ira Byock, the widely recognized physician writing our Foreword, points out that pain can be dealt with more effectively because of new developments in palliative care.  We intend this book to be a spiritual resource supporting people who choose to take the turn toward death in order to live fully until they die.  The support of a dedicated hospice team also makes it possible to live comfortably and peacefully toward. There is still hard work to do letting things and dreams and people go.  The dying will grieve for all we're leaving behind. Those who are gifted with time for living while dying have an amazing opportunity for quality conversations, joyous gift-giving, and deepening friendships as we love and are loved.  We want this to be a book to inspire, to help and to offer courage to others who can intentionally choose, as Karen did, for our final passage to be as rich and as fulfilling as possible. Living while dying is our final human act--it's not a medical craft, but a Divine Art.

Read from the Book

Introduction The Divine Art of Dying looks at that unique moment when a person turns toward death and acknowledges his or her own mortality. It’s the point at which they know that at some time soon they will, as the fourteenth-century Dominican spiritual thinker, Meister Eckhart put it, sink into the “naught of the Divine.”  We have deliberately chosen not to write another end-of-life book, for there are a plethora of those available. Instead, we seek to address an earlier moment in time which we call a moment of blessed recognition. Some call it “the fitting moment.” Or “the act of consciously dying.” This moment comes at various times for each of us. Whenever it comes, it’s usually the point at which death is no longer an abstract concept. This book seeks to rewrite the old cliché “I want to live until I die” and make it “I recognize I can choose to live fully, sometimes sadly but often joyously and with great gratitude, for as long as I can.” We teamed up to write this book in order to help people who are irreversibly ill (along with their friends and family) navigate the perilous journey to the point at which one decides to discontinue curative treatment and turn toward death. This author team combines Herbert’s years of teaching, writing, and lecturing on death and dying and bereavement with Karen’s writing and experiential insights. Palliative care is now a legitimate medical specialty. Therefore, it is possible (medically) and desirable (socially and spiritually) to make an earlier decision about dying. However just because this decision comes sooner doesn’t mean it’s any easier.  We hope you’ll find within these pages helpful ways to deal, cope, face, and grow from what will be, without a doubt, very difficult times. Once the decision has been made by people who are now dealing with death “up close and personal” many, such as Karen has done, will come to the realization that they can still live fully until they die. We might call this the Divine Art of Understanding.  And we believe each of us has this capacity. We just need to be reminded of it. But it’s more than dying well.  It’s about how we might die in love. Or, playfully putting it another way: how might we love to die. We realize, however, that not everyone has Karen’s background and many are angry and fearful, disappointed and anxious. This book speaks to those emotions as well. By coupling the words dying with divine and art, we imply that dying is not technology driven, but instead holds the possibility of being as God-filled, loving and as sacred as being born. Dying, just as any other point during our lives, can be an integrative rather than a splintering event. We don’t negate the fact that it will be lonely, for we all finally do it alone. But by framing death and dying as a divine art, we hope to paint a picture of integrative wholeness which we all very humanly and naturally encounter at the end of our lives. It holds the potential to be both sad and joyous. It’s not something to be denied or feared but to be embraced and loved, as all of life can and ought to be. We believe dying is more about telling stories than going through stages, because these stages, even those so eloquently stated by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, are not necessarily neatly linear. Dying, like living, is a moveable feast of choices and responses to circumstances.  The poet T. S. Eliot once observed that there are two possible responses in life to every situation: “What are we going to do about it?” And, “How shall we behave toward this situation?” The generosity of stories interspersed throughout the book offer new ways to hold and frame one’s end times and all the various situations that poses. These stories speak to the abundance of insights people have gleaned by being awake and aware as they ponder dying. We call attention to celebrating humor and the ordinariness of life. We enjoy all the little things; the small but very meaningful moments during this time of passage. And we draw attention to how we can trust the grace and gifts of strangers who come to the dying person at this time.  This, then, is a book about making choices, thinking in advance about how we might behave toward this situation of dying and deciding what we’re going to do about it. It’s about how we live with and care for those we love, including ourselves. Part 1 “Taking the Turn Toward Death” explores how we might responsibly decide to forgo further medical treatment and what that might mean. Because of the promises of medical technology we find ourselves awash in decision-making and trying to figure things out. That moment to turn towards death rather than away, can happen at any time and, most certainly, at different times according to how and when people make various responsible decisions. Part 2, “Orienting Toward Death,” presents a discussion of how we move back and forth on this journey, experiencing ambiguity and paradox, chaos and trust and how we wait for things to happen.  The dying person holding the death-compass continues to adjust her course. Any sporting orienteering participant knows that it’s important to hone one’s navigational skills. We may hold some maps, we may have a GPS, or we may devise and chart our own plans. However we decide to travel from point to point, each one of us begins our human life journey at birth and at some stage in our lives, we know, deep down, that there will be an ending to this life. Our job now is to better understand and explore this amazing journey. In Part 3, “Living Until We Die” we seek to celebrate and uphold everyone participating in this amazing process. After making her decision to stop treatment, Karen discovered she was free to live with more acuity, more vigor and certainly with more urgency. She, as well as others, can learn to triage energy, time, thoughts, and language. This section gets into the hard work the dying must do. They don’t have to do this work, of course, and many may choose not to undertake it, but if they do it is our intention to offer help. Finally, Part 4, “Dying Into Life” looks more deeply at how we die into life. We discuss the art of letting go and we explore how last moments are marked, measured, and treasured. We look at grief and grieving, but more in the context of the person dying than those who will deal with their own grieving later. We discuss end-of-journey rituals and throughout we take a hard look at what people fear at this time, for we recognize that all fear stems from loss. Or from what we perceive we are losing. Each chapter opens with an entry “From Karen’s Hospice Journal.” Death remains abstract—something that happens to someone else—until, that is, it become very personal. These opening words offer the reader her very personal views on what is happening to her and to her family and those around her.  Both authors have experienced that moment of blessed recognition. For Karen, it came ten years after her first diagnosis of ovarian cancer. For Herbert, the moment came when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, now successfully treated.  We’ve designed this book to address the possibility that facing one’s death head-on may also be an opportune time for everyone concerned to explore his or her own spiritual agendas. We’ve decided to seriously think about what our virtues are now that we’re discussing these moments of blessed recognition. Virtues make up our soulfulness—the essence of paradox because they’re in us as well as around us. They’re both human and divine. Virtues are both part of us now and part of the larger landscape through which we travel. The Greeks explored these morally excellent portions of who we are and called them the really good parts of us—the things that promote collective as well as individual greatness. Since they are already a part of us, they can’t be taught, but they can be nurtured and named. We tuck these little notes into sidebars and call them Our Divine  Human Virtues. The first one you’ll encounter is “faith.”  Paul Tillich, a Lutheran theologian called faith the state of being ultimately concerned about what is experienced as ultimate.  Knowing what is “ultimate” in our lives is a life-long quest and one not certainly to be abandoned at death. Having faith in ourselves, in our medical teams, in all those caregivers around us and ultimately, for many, in a power beyond our weakened physical selves, enables us to begin to view death as a divine art.  If you’ve picked up this book, you may be someone who has already decided or you may need to decide or you may have had it decided for you that nothing more can or should be done to cure a disease. You may realize that further treatment will diminish the possibility of continuing to live fully until you die. Or, you may be a family member or a friend or a medical caregiver for someone who is dying. You, now, must concur with an individual’s decision to suspend curative treatment. That’s why every chapter ends with very practical suggestions From the Caregiver’s Guidebook.  When someone takes the turn toward death by deciding to discontinue treatments aimed at cure or at prolonging life, family and friends become ministers to the dying person and to one another. We also write for the experts who may be the catalyst for the major deciders who must let go of the desire to cure in order to live more fully toward death. It is for anyone who wishes to know how to walk with someone toward death; how to listen carefully, advocate appropriately, avoid fixing and begin to live gracefully with helplessness. The Divine Art of Dying is designed to help people come to a better understanding of what to say and even what to think about this living/dying journey.  It is our gentle and loving gift to you.                                                 Karen Speerstra and Herbert Anderson

Table of Contents

The Divine Art of Dying by Karen Speerstra and Herbert Anderson

“Means of Egress”—Laura’s cover image
Foreword: Dr. Ira Byock


Part 1. Taking the Turn Toward Death

  1. The Porch Light is On
  2. Hospice at the Door
  3. Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
  4. Facing Finality
  5. Peering Into the Dark

On Transparency

Part 2. Orienting Toward Death

  1. The Blessed Ambiguity of Dying
  2. How Do We Talk About Death?
  3. Taking Charge in the Midst of Chaos
  4. Trusting the Capacity of Others
  5. Hurry Up and Wait

On Stewarding Our Resources

Part 3 Living Until We Die

  1. Celebrating the Ordinary
  2. Sharing Memories; Telling Stories
  3. Letting Go
  4. The Joy of Gift-Giving
  5. How Are You Feeling?

On Gratitude

Part 4 Dying into Life

  1. The Goodness of Grieving
  2. Rituals for the Journey
  3. When Death Draws Near
  4. Living in the Mystery



Editorial Reviews

“The Divine Art of Dying is a magnificent achievement. Beautifully written, it is a moving and inspiring book about taking control of your life as it starts to come to a close.” - Will Schwalbe, author of the New York Times bestselling The End Of Your Life Book Club   "This is a profound and practical guide to the art of living well while dying and of helping others do the same. I was very touched by Speerstra's personal journey. Both authors are compassionate and skillful guides into another country." - Mary Pipher, author of Another Country and The Green Boat.   “Like a delectable, patiently simmered bisque from loving chefs, The Divine Art of Dying is rich with wisdom, spiced with morsels from philosophers, theologians, artists, essayists, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and generously sprinkled with insights from ordinary people living through the extraordinary personal experience of dying. Fortunately, one can now take life’s final exam with an open book and the answer to mortality’s question can be found within the pages of The Divine Art of Dying.  How then shall we live? Fully, Intentionally, Attentively, Lovingly.” - Ira Byock, MD, bestselling author of Dying Well: Peace and Possibilities At The End Of Life