Living life, facing death-a review of A Beginner’s Guide to the End

Even as a physician, I was surprised at the claim that only 10% to 20% of us will die without warning. The rest of us will know we have something that will likely take our life. And even if we don’t, we all know we will die eventually, although we tend to think and act as if it’s a well kept secret, and maybe it is.

"To every thing there is a season" Bible verse with fall color leaves

by B.J. Miller, M.D. and Shoshana Berger

This book’s tag line sums up the content of this book perfectly. I have reviewed other books about death on this blog; they were more biographical, philosophical, and spiritual and touched less on the practical. This book is on the other end of the spectrum; more practical, but also philosophical ,and spiritual. ( And I mean spiritual in a broad sense, not necessarily religious.)

The book begins with a brief biographical section where each author shares their reason for writing a book about death. Dr. Miller, a palliative care physician, had a life-threatening injury. He writes,

I got close enough to see something of death and come back from the ledge, only to realize that it’s in and around us all the time.

Ms. Berger, an editorial director, took care of her dying father. She wrote,

I remember those years as being full of anxiety and grief but also as a time of drawing closer.

an illustration from the book

How the book unfolds

The book consists of 5 sections that mimic the progression from life to illness to death. Even as a physician, I was surprised at the claim that only 10% to 20% of us will die without warning. The rest of us will know we have something that will likely take our life. And even if we don’t, we all know we will die eventually, although we tend to think and act as if it’s a well kept secret, and maybe it is.

The sections are as follows


Although you could read the book straight through, you might want to skip to sections you need at whatever stage you are in. Chapter titles clearly tell you what to expect from their content. Here are some examples-

  • Yes, There’s Paperwork.
  • Can I Afford to Die?
  • I’m Sick
  • Love, Sex, and Relationships
  • Hospital Hacks
  • Care for the Caregiver
  • It’s Your Body and Your Funeral
  • Grief
  • How to write a Eulogy and an Obituary
  • Celebrating a Life

There are no photographs, charts, graphs, or info graphics, but scattered throughout are illustrative sketches that convey helpful information in a non threatening way. I have used some screenshots of a few of them to illustrate this post.

The authors conclude the book with Last Words, Acknowledgments, Resources (an extensive list), Notes, and Index.

Read this book

As much as I hope you don’t need it right now, unfortunately you do need it right now. So whatever stage of living, or dying, you or a loved one may be in, you will find something helpful here.

Find the book at your local library like I did, or get it from one of these book sellers; this would be a good book to keep on hand. (These affiliate links pay a commission to support this blog, while you pay nothing extra. )

Bestsellers at! Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Here is another post from this blog about the dying experience

What books teach us about dying

an excerpt-

I reviewed these books  because understanding how other people and their families have faced death may relieve our dread, anxiety, or fear  about dying and death. Often it is not death itself that we fear but the dying process -the pain , disability, dependence, isolation, unfulfilled dreams.

In an essay  for JAMA, Dr. Zachary Sager, a geriatric and palliative care physician in Boston Massachusetts, described his response to  working with dying patients-

“I witnessed how people could be simultaneously resilient and fragile. I was moved by the connectedness between individuals.

I accept that death offers not only the expected reflection on life and mourning but an opportunity for a unique form of growth and healing. ”

The books I reviewed share  common themes, and events yet are each unique as are the people in them who demonstrate both resilience and fragility.

sharing the HEART of life and death

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

Thanks for following this blog. If you’re visiting, I would love for you to start following Watercress Words : use the form to get an email notification of new posts. Don’t worry, you won’t get anything else from me. I also want you to find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest , Instagram, and LinkedIn .

                              Dr. Aletha 

Author: Aletha Cress Oglesby, M.D.

I am a family physician who explores the HEART of HEALTH in my work, recreation, and through writing. On my blog, Watercress Words, I inform and inspire us in healthy living. I believe we can turn our health challenges into healthy opportunities. When we do, we can share the HEART of health with our families, communities, and the world. Come explore and share with me.

3 thoughts on “Living life, facing death-a review of A Beginner’s Guide to the End”

  1. Thank you for sharing this Aletha. My mother and mother-in-law are both nearing the final stages of life. It has gotten me thinking lately about their lives, but also that my generation is next. I’m not yet 60 and in good health, so it’s not like I expect to go anytime soon, but it’s strange to be this close to having no parents and being “next” so to speak. Of course, none of us is promised another day. My youngest brother is already gone. I’m intrigued by this book.


    1. I understand Christie. My father died first, so when my mother died several years later, then I became “next”, as I had no siblings. I’ve actually now been next for a third of my life, so it almost seems natural. Then there are exceptions, as my friend who recently lost her adult son. I’m sorry you have already lost a brother. I think the book will help you with the season you and your family are in.


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