Dying Well

DyingWell_coverDying Well

Byock, M.D., Ira





“[Byock’s] book succeeds brilliantly in its intention, which is to advise and comfort the dying and those close to them.” — Washington Post“[An] immensely moving yet practical guide.” — San Francisco Chronicle“Life on the edge of the great crossing is explored in all its sadness and pathos, but Byock also makes room for wisdom, hope and even the joy of final understanding.” — Publishers Weekly“If you love anyone on the planet — and if a single other person loves you — Dying Well is a book to read, think about, and discuss with those you love.” — BookPage

About the Author

Ira Byock, M.D., is director of Palliative Medicine at Dartmouth- Hitchcock Medical Center and a professor at Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. He is also the author of The Best Care Possible. He lives in Enfield, New Hampshire.



A hospice doctor’s wrenching stories of dying patients and their families, which dramatically illustrate his belief that the transition to death can be one of life’s most meaningful experiences. Byock, a specialist in palliative care who directs a hospice in Missoula, Mont., has chosen stories that represent a wide range of experiences, each focusing on some aspect of human growth. Pseudonymns are used throughout except for Byock’s moving account of his own father’s death and the story of the Merseal family, whose dying son was the subject of a 1996 HBO documentary. What is crystal clear in all of them is that the full experience of dying is not captured from a purely medical perspective. Without proper medical care, dying can be agonizing, but relief of physical pain, which Byock contends is always possible, is by no means the whole picture. In his experience, emotional pain is more intense and requires more skillful intervention. Dying well, says Byock, involves reaching certain landmarks, which he encourages his patients to achieve: asking forgiveness, accepting forgiveness, expressing love, acknowledging self-worth, and saying good-bye. One of the hardest to read of Byock’s stories describes the death of Terry, a 31-year-old mother with cancer who cannot reach these landmarks and suffers greatly. Her story also illustrates the fine distinction between hastening death and ensuring comfort. Byock, who argues that the euthanasia debate has distracted our attention from more logical and humane approaches, is not afraid to give his considered opinions about assisted suicide, vegetative states, and feeding tubes. Often reminiscent of Michael Kearney’s recent Mortally Wounded (p. 1029), which described that doctor’s work with patients in an Irish hospice, this is another powerful argument in favor of the hospice movement and rejection of the Kevorkian approach.

Publishers Weekly

This study of how to die well displays uncommon vitality. Byock, president elect of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Care, is a gifted storyteller. Beginning with his own father’s terminal illness, he details without scientific cant the process of decline that awaits most of us. The case studies, which form the humanistic soul of this work, never devolve into the maudlin or saccharine. Life on the edge of the great crossing is explored in all its sadness and pathos, but Byock also makes room for wisdom, hope and even the joy of final understanding. By recounting the passages of patients in his Missoula, Mont., practice, Byock makes a forceful case for hospice care and against physician-assisted suicide. He demonstrates how the physical pain and emotional despair of the dying may be handled. The family constellation of the terminally ill is also analyzed, with emphasis on a hospice’s ability, through its doctors, nurses, psychologists and social workers, to help those left behind. Not only is this book informative, especially the question-and-answer section at the end, it is also insightful. Readers will sense Byock’s personal growth as his understanding of final issues flowers through a 20-year specialization. Byock recalls his growth from a callow resident to a concerned son and, finally, to a healer with a mission. Whether it’s the middle-aged mother who must resolve disillusionment with her sister, the bitter father of three who achieves serenity or the gutsy teenage girl with a rare genetic disease, the people whose sojourns Byock recounts receive from him the dignity they merit. German rights to Kinder Verlag; author tour.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.


I’m the kind of person whose eyes start to glaze over if I try to absorb more than a few pages of social science/self help type writing. I was steered to this book when I was helping my mother as she died. I had so little experience with death that I worried about doing the wrong thing. As I read the stories I was drawn in, absorbing each small “message” with each story. One, about a man whose final gift to his family was to allow them to help him as he died, touched me so deeply I read it to my mother in her last days. I wish I’d read this book earlier but I don’t think it could ever be too late.

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Recommended by Tom Mahan and Susan Peterson, this is a wonderful book! I have a phrase that I’ve always used to admonish myself in making decisions: “Live your life in such a way…” That thought helps me for the short run and the long run. The message of this book reinforces that way of thinking.

Dr. Byock details so many ways of dying, and I was so pleased when he recommended Final Gifts since it’s been a very important book for Jim and me. The important point is to live one’s life in such a way that there are no lingering angers or resentments or unspoken love or thanks. Keep it all clear and simple and then ***pray*** that hospice will be available for each of us! What a terrific idea! True inspiration and great help.

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Barnes & Noble

Unfortunately a lot of doctors do not pass the test of the one who wrote this book as most don’t ever show any humanity.

Have read most books on death and dying including Kubler-Ross and find this one to be excellent but also know the reality of life and have seen family members pass away without much caring by doctors and in some cases nurses. This is more distressing when the individual dying goes into a hospital for a minor item and is given a heart attack, pneumonia and an infection in two days through lack of procedure by the hospital, doctors, ie. take a person down for surgery and cause the heart attack and then do a CAT scan when they should have done same “before” the surgery.

Only hope some doctors and nurses read this book so they can see the proper way to handle those who are dying.

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Posted on

February 12, 2015