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“A straightforward, well-organized, nondepressing guide to managing the run-up to one’s inevitable demise.”

Amanda Urban, Publisher’s Weekly


“The surprising comfort of a new book about death”

Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

No, you won’t survive your death, but you can live until the very last moment without the pain and humiliation that inevitably accompany an over-medicalized dying process.” 

Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Natural Causes

She’s done it again. 

New York Times best-selling author of Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Katy Butler, has penned a stunningly effective and sublimely practical compendium on how to create a good end-of-life. Something few think about, but everyone encounters. 

Ms. Butler offers her readers uncommon insights drawn from her own experience of helping her parents pass peacefully. You’ll discover complex ideas to ponder along with critical steps to follow as you or a loved one contemplate your final approach to the mystery of life. Death. 

She shares inspiring stories. She answers primal questions about weighing medical risks; preparing your family; avoiding a hospital emergency room; building resilience and creativity; tackling essential paperwork and settling your affairs and taking advantage of choices available to you. In California, we can turn to the End-Of-Life Option Act to guide our path. And to End-Of-Life Choices of California (EOLCCA) to gain access to vital information and deeply personal support when needed.

Filled with case studies and real-world examples of both good and bad outcomes, The Art of Dying Well delivers excellent resources to navigate our very complex medical system. Pay close attention to “Ways to Prepare” in every chapter, along with her excellent section on “Coping with Dementia.” Here, she even provides us with an outstanding dementia directive letter.

In Chapter 4, Awareness of Mortality, Ms. Butler presents an efficient tool to enable you to face a serious diagnosis with a poor prognosis: “Understanding the Trajectory of Your Illness.” She encourages us to use this pen-and-paper method to improve understanding, command of details, and to reduce our feelings of helplessness. What’s more, a physician is likely to respond well to your finished product because it will be concrete yet editable.

Ever-Growing Movement

Ms. Butler takes a gently adversarial approach to our health care system with justification. She was dragged “through the mill” with her parents’ long and convoluted illnesses. Her deep and wide research on the business of dying puts her in a league of frontline experts in this ever-growing movement of end-of-life choices and dignity in death.

Author and Advocate, Katy Butler

Further, she staunchly advocates for patients and their families to be seen, heard and understood.  

If you do not have a family member or friend to advocate for you, begin by reading and rereading this book. Mark the pages with sticky notes. Jot down questions in the margins. Take it with you to doctor visits. Consider The Art of Dying Well as your surrogate advocate until you can gather your human network.


Giving Life Meaning

In the beautiful spirit of Atul Gawande in Being Mortal, Ms. Butler urges us to clarify over and over what’s important to us, what gives our lives meaning, and to live those values daily. Until we can’t. She counsels us to compel the medical community to hear us, to act in our self-interest, not theirs. If not, we’re empowered to find another doctor or request a palliative care consult. 

Finally, I enjoyed the inventive ways Ms. Butler explains to successfully age in place, why picking a younger doctor matters, how to communicate honestly with medical professionals, and how to make your death a sacred rite of passage rather than a medical event.  

The Art of Dying Well belongs at the top of your summer reading list.


Article by Lynne Calkins
Edited by Carolyn L. Smith


End of life choices California

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