Facing the Final Mystery is written by Laura Larsen, a registered nurse with over 30 years experience in nursing. Many of us don’t know what to do when a loved one is dying. Laura’s book guides us through the last journey with a steady hand.
What I liked most about the book
Laura describes how her personal friend Anna was dying from cancer and chose to live her final days at home. I never realised death could be this beautiful.
“A hospital bed was set up in the den where Anna could look out to her garden. For the next five days there was always someone sitting at Anna’s side. Holding her hand, ready to help adjust her position, give her ice chips, clean her mouth and just be with her.
The last night of her life, Anna opened her eyes to see her mother at her side. “Ok Mom, tell me what’s gonna happen.” “You mean where you’ll be going?” “Yes, Mom.”
Her mother quoted bible scriptures that were familiar to them both. She told her they would be together again, and that Anna would never leave her heart. Anna smiled and closed her eyes. She stopped breathing peacefully at 4am, with her husband at her side and both of her parents in the room.
Anna’s mother and Ginger bathed her and dressed her in a beautiful gown, sprinkled rose petals across the bed and put soft music on the CD player. As the daylight grew, Anna’s husband called the rest of the family and a few friends. It was a spiritual experience, instead of a medical one. I am grateful.”
We can choose our dying
Barring sudden accidents or other unforeseen events, we may be able to choose when we go. This is such a great opportunity to leave this life on our own terms. Laura describes how this can happen.
“A month before his hundredth birthday, he said “I think I won’t eat anymore.” He never took solid food again. He deliberately and purposefully chose the time and the way of his leaving. It was to be methodical and conscious. He would cast off his body by fasting. Death by fasting is not a violent form of suicide. It is a slow gentle diminution of energies, a peaceful way to leave, voluntarily. Externally and internally he was prepared.”
Laura goes on to explain that once appetite and thirst have subsided, withholding nourishment does not increase discomfort and may allow someone who is seriously ill to let go. Learning this helps family members support the dying process.
Practical tips for facing the final mystery
- You don’t have to say anything, just be there.
- Allow the bereaved to speak often of the memories of their loved one.
- Acknowledge there was a death rather than pretending all is as it was before.
- Offer simple decisions such as “I am having soup at six tonight. Will you join us?”
- Allow tears, yours and theirs, when you visit.
- It helps when we use the real words – ‘dying’ and ‘death’ – rather than euphemisms such as passed away, which only increase the denial of what is really happening.
When children die
Watching children die is one of the most heart-wrenching agonies in the world. We feel helpless to protect them from the pain and loss of life. So we try to protect them in other ways, like refusing to acknowledge that they are dying. Here is what Laura says about it.
“The comfort care provided for adults is less likely to be provided for children because no one wants to give up hope. Often the children sense they will die and try to talk about it, only to be hushed by parents and caregivers. Lifting the taboo of discussing dying and death may also help ease the suffering of children who are dying.”
How the dying can teach us how to live
Decades of working with the dying led to some observations by Laura and others that can help us to live better lives now.
“They are sorry to have neglected spiritual growth, to have avoided joy, to have worked too long and too hard, to not have explored specific interests or knowledge, or to have stayed too long in difficult relationships.” – Stephen Levine, “A Year to Live”
“The most important aspects reported by almost everyone who had a Near Death Experience are the strong needs to live their lives in a completely new way, to do good for others, to follow their dreams, and to release the fear of death.”
– Laura Larsen
Facing the final mystery can teach us how to live
The book covers much more, including practical aspects of dying like palliative and hospice care, financial documents and advance directives, care-giving and collaborative housing, dealing with suicide, coping mechanisms and so much more.
Get the book Facing the Final Mystery: A Guide to Discussing End-of-Life Issues as it is, literally, a matter of life and death. Get your family to read it and start talking about death today, so that you are all ready to face the final mystery not as something to be feared, but as an opportunity for great love and beauty.
“Facing and embracing the final mystery – that we will suffer and we will die – leads us to the real meaning of our life.”
– Laura Larsen
19 replies on “Facing The Final Mystery: Book Review”
Very nice write up..
It reminds me of a saying … don’t be afraid of dying, be afraid to have never lived.
I think it would be difficult to read this book. It sounds like the author puts a great spin on the concept of death. I agree that death can certainly teach us how to live. My aunt recently passed away and dedicated a half marathon race in her name. I told myself that I would run the entire race eventhough I wasn’t properly prepared for the race. It’s death experiences that help teach people that they should appreciate what they have while they have it.
Yeah, it seems to me that “I” is just a convenience of language, but when we think about it we don’t really know what it means. It’s easy to say “I’m my body,” but then what does it mean to say that it’s “your body”? What is the thing that it belongs to?
Wow, you really made me think with that comment. Did you mean that the “I” we speak of is a different entity from day to day or year to year, so that every “I” dies constantly? Your statement that the final mystery is inside us is profound, and probably very true.
The story of Anna was so beautiful wasn’t it? I hope the book helps your friend. Strangely, after I wrote this review I found out that I have a friend who needed it too!
Joking does help to lighten the weight of the moment, and after all why shouldn’t we be happy throughout our lives, right till the end? I’m so grateful to my late father for staying jovial and positive as long as he could, until he lapsed into a coma. He made it easier for us all bless his soul.
You pointed out a very important point. None of the dying or those near death ever wished for more material things. Yet we spend so much of life chasing these.
Thanks for replying to my comment. My mother once said that the happiest people are those who have known the most sadness. Sounds strange, though it makes sense because the sadness helps us appreciate the joy when it comes. Losing someone important helps us value those we still have.
Thanks for this post. What this brought up for me is that I’m not even totally sure what “I” am, and so I’m not certain what it means to think about death, really. Maybe the “final mystery” is really with us all the time.
Hi again Daphne,
Yes, we do have some things in common and I am happy to know that I am not alone in this too. It is hard to lose a parent when you are young and to be confronted with one’s own death at 15. But we shall make the best out of it, right? 🙂
Knowledge about death is always makes life easier.If we can remember that we have to face the final mystery one day, we won’t too much bother about gaining material things.
I know that it sounds odd but the monk whom I follow suggests that we tell jokes instead if we are visiting a friend who is dying. Death is inevitable. So his argument is why not go in joy?
Thank you for sharing with us about this book, I have a friend who is in need of this book. When I read the part about Anna I got to feeling of peace and love. It is so beautiful, Yes, I would love to end this way as well.
Imperfect Action is better than No Action
I always get rejuvinated when I visit!
Love what you said about “living well to die well!” This will be embedded within me forever! :~)
Thank you! :~)
Isn’t it great that we have clear guidelines for living from those who wish they had more time on earth to do all the important things? To grow spiritually, and to be open to joy – those are what I told myself after reading that passage you quoted. I loved it too. Yes Buddhism speaks of death quite comfortably. I’m not sure why Western cultures have evolved to avoid speaking of death, though it’s encouraging that people like Laura, who is American and so ‘western’ are working to change this.
Wow, did you want to become a priest? Or were you at the seminary for a retreat? What gives me faith to follow the advice is that it’s always the same advice from people who are grieving, so there must be truth and wisdom in it.
Hey we have some things in common. At 15 I had spinal surgery and there was a chance I might die or be paralysed as a result. All was well and I’m so grateful today for my life and health. My dad too died of cancer and it was quite beautiful with family around him at all times. The only thing I would change is that he died in a hospital though he wanted to come home. If I had a chance to do it over, I would do what you did and bring him home to die. Thanks so much for sharing. It always helps to know we’re not alone.
I used to feel uncomfortable too around grieving people until my dad died and I became the grieving person. Now I have that personal experience to draw from. I sat by my dad for many weeks while he was dying, and towards the end he was in a coma and it was painful not knowing if he could hear or sense our presence, and wondering whether he could still think and experience fear all alone in that cocoon of darkness. Being the kind of person you are, I know that when the time comes you will find the strength to deal with death as you deal with life – boldly, and with great love. Do let me know if ever the time comes and you need someone to talk to who has been through it before.
Thank you for reading the review and for your comment!
The book quotes Dr Kubler-Ross’ work, and I’ve heard of her though I’ve never read her first-hand. She is a respected pioneer in the field, I know. You’re so right that the hard edges soften and blur (I love your visual description!) and I’ve found that death and facing it can bring out the best in people. This grace, as you say, makes the experience less sad and more beautiful. Thank you for such a wise comment. I felt so peaceful after reading your words.
I knew you would disagree 🙂 because of your views about death not being necessary at all. Actually I believe that we do not ‘die’ as in disappear completely. We merely change form. Even science agrees with this (matter cannot be created or destroyed). While it may be scientifically possible to bypass death as we know it someday, I do not see a need to if we can embrace death as not death at all, just an end to a way of life, and a start of another way of life whatever that may be. Thanks for your comment though, and the reminder that the mind is more powerful than we realise and can even overcome death someday. That’s an awesome thought.
Your presence here always makes me smile, as you bring your exuberance, joy and incredible lightness of being wherever you go. Thanks for your rejuvenating comment!
I disagree (that thinking this way is useful). If we had no vhoice about dying – if it was impossible to heal ourselves so we don’t die – then it would make sense to make the most of it i.e. to not fear it and to prepare for it. But what if aging and death are programs we have learned, and are not necessary?
Would you leave work each day imagining you were going to have a car accident on the way home, and preparing for it? Of course not – because you would know inside that this could make it actually happen. Cheers Daphne.
Daphne, this was wonderful. Have you read any of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s work? Amazing, like this.
When we put a different perspective on this most natural of events, all the hard edges we’ve adopted surrounding it soften and blur, leaving simply love and compassion and kindness and great care in its place. There’s simply no other healthy way to approach passing from one life to another except with such grace as this. Thank you.
Thank you for the thoughtful review.
This is so needed. I don’t know if I would be strong enought to sit by a loved one as they died. I need to grow in this area.
I’m familiar with Stephen Levine’s work and what to do when someone is grieving is helpful because it’s always so uncomfortable. I think the key is to get comfortable with silence so the other person’s needs are met.
Thanks for sharing.
I was with my mom when she passed away from cancer. You are right, it is a great teacher. My mom died the way that she wanted…fast, at home and with all her loved ones around her. It is a day that I will never forget. It is hard to lose a mom so young but it was a great learning experience.
When I was 15, I almost died so I always was always grateful to be alive. But watching my mom die took everything to a new level. Life is so precious and so beautiful. It can end at any second so why waste it?
Wonderful post and I am going to add that book to my never ending book list! 🙂
I immediately recognized some of the tips regarding what to do when visiting a grieving friend. They are almost verbatim the ones I was given in the Seminary (like priests’) I attended.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I really like the quote:
“They are sorry to have neglected spiritual growth, to have avoided joy, to have worked too long and too hard, to not have explored specific interests or knowledge, or to have stayed too long in difficult relationships.”
I’ve read that nobody wishes they had worked harder on their death bed. I guess it’s true.
In the West, we usually avoid talking of death. I read a lot of Buddhism books that discuss preparing yourself for death because it’s natural and normal. I think we all need to face and accept our death so that we live more meaningful lives.