"Illuminating, unflinching and ultimately inspiring... A book to treasure.” –People Magazine
A hospice chaplain passes on wisdom on giving meaning to life, from those taking leave of it.
As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan didn’t offer sermons or prayers, unless they were requested; in fact, she found, the dying rarely want to talk about God, at least not overtly. Instead, she discovered she’d been granted a powerful chance to witness firsthand what she calls the “spiritual work of dying”—the work of finding or making meaning of one’s life, the experiences it’s contained and the people who have touched it, the betrayals, wounds, unfinished business, and unrealized dreams. Instead of talking, she mainly listened: to stories of hope and regret, shame and pride, mystery and revelation and secrets held too long. Most of all, though, she listened as her patients talked about love—love for their children and partners and friends; love they didn’t know how to offer; love they gave unconditionally; love they, sometimes belatedly, learned to grant themselves.
This isn’t a book about dying—it’s a book about living. And Egan isn’t just passively bearing witness to these stories. An emergency procedure during the birth of her first child left her physically whole but emotionally and spiritually adrift. Her work as a hospice chaplain healed her, from a brokenness she came to see we all share. Each of her patients taught her something about what matters in the end—how to find courage in the face of fear or the strength to make amends; how to be profoundly compassionate and fiercely empathetic; how to see the world in grays instead of black and white. In this hopeful, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along all their precious and necessary gifts.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.60(d)|
About the Author
From the Hardcover edition.
Read an Excerpt
the stories we tell
Excerpted from "On Living"
Copyright © 2017 Kerry Egan.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The stories we tell 1
The crucible of love 25
Gloria's baby 31
If I had only known, I would have danced more 55
Where there's breath, there's hope 61
Living in the gray 73
Born, and born again, and again 115
Love and other real things 133
Ordinary angels 155
Imagination and suffering 175
Dying is just a verb 185
It's a beautiful life and then you leave it 197
Reading Group Guide
On Living Reading Group Guide
1. “We all have some experiences that we hold up as the stories that define our lives,” Egan writes in the opening pages of On Living, and she returns to this theme throughout the book, chronicling the stories her patients told her and the meaning they eventually found in the telling. Has a particular story defined your life? In what ways?
2. A woman dying of colon cancer and end stage dementia, in a fleeting moment of complete lucidity, tells Egan, “Whatever bad things have happened to you in your life, whatever hard things you’ve gone through, you have to do three things: You have to accept it. You have to be kind to it. And you have to let it be kind to you.” What do you think she meant? How can you let a hard thing, whether a minor tragedy or a life-altering trauma, be kind to you? What would that look like?
3. How does Egan discuss religion in On Living? Do you see this as a religious book? Why or why not?
4. “The world’s been telling me for seventy-five years that my body is bad. First for being female, then for being fat, and then for being sick,” a patient tells Egan in “If I Had Only Known, I Would Have Danced More,” which prompts Egan to wonder, “How do these voices telling us that we are supposed to hate our bodies affect our notions of how we should care for the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the young? For mothers, soldiers, workers, immigrants, men, women?” What do you think the effect is? In what ways do you see this being played out in our culture today?
5. “As a very young woman, I thought regret was a failure, something to avoid at all costs. It is, in fact, a window.” What do you think Egan means by this?
6. In “Dying is Just a Verb,” a patient asks Egan to wheel her outside her nursing home so she can “feel the wind in my pussy again.” Egan bursts into laughter, and that evening desperately wants to retell the story during a neighborhood gathering, only to be derailed by a woman who “can’t stand to hear stories about the dying.” So she stops, thinking, “How could I explain that while there are sad moments…they are far outweighed by happy, enjoyable, boring, peaceful, frustrating, tedious, and yes, hilariously funny moments?” In what ways does Egan utilize humor throughout On Living? How does humor act to humanize “the dying”?
7. Discussing her ketamine-induced psychosis and the secret reminder to herself she kept on her flip phone—You Are Capable—Egan asks, “Can our deepest self be destroyed by what happens in this life? Or do we have some sort of unchanging, essential soul?” What do you think?
8. Later, Egan writes, “Every single person I spoke to about the ketamine hallucinations told me they were not real. They were not a real religious experience. That was not a real encounter with God. There was no reality to them, and therefore no value.” Do you agree? How do we decide what is real and what has value? For ourselves? For others?
9. “The world is not black and white. There is no black and white. There’s only gray. You have to live in the gray.” Do you agree? How does this sentiment apply to Egan’s own story? The book as a whole?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a beautifully written book full of lessons for everyone. I have recommended it to my book club because it is a book I very much want to talk about. The author's words have continued to resonate with me in so many ways, and I love that. It is truly unlike any book I've ever read.