The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What you — and your loved ones — need to know when facing death

(Simon & Schuster)

Have you ever wondered how your life will end? Or how you, and your loved ones, will cope with those days and hours as death approaches? 

If such ponderings provoke panic, you’re not alone. It’s normal to fear death, especially in a society that doesn’t relish conversations about the end of life. Over the centuries, public health and medical advances have extended lives while the process of dying has been whisked out of sight.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most Americans died in hospitals or nursing homes, with only 30 percent having their final moments at home. Studies have found that many people don’t start thinking about their own demise until it’s too late. 

If you’re ready to confront the inevitable, “A Beginner’s Guide to the End” can be a helpful place to start. Written by palliative care doctor B.J. Miller and Shoshana Berger, the book doesn’t sugarcoat what it means to die: They break down the actual death process and tell you what to expect when you’re ill.

“If you know what to look for, the body will tell you what you need to know,” they write. 

But what else should you look for as you die? It turns out that death is about much more than your body shutting down. The dying process can raise questions about religion, sex, long-held secrets, money and family dynamics. Miller and Berger cover all those topics and more, with the help of useful illustrations. 

You may not be able to guarantee the kind of death you’d like, but this book can help you — and those you leave behind — make plans. From explaining how to fill out funeral home paperwork to examining with the emotions that accompany a tough diagnosis, the book is a gentle, knowledgeable guide to a fate we all share. 

Most people want to die at home, but many end up in hospitals getting unwanted care

Asking those difficult questions at the end of life

Choosing your own exit. For some who are terminally ill, hastening their own death may be the answer