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Books and teachings on dying and death take up a weighty shelf in the library of contemporary Buddhist literature and this resource guide is not intended as a list of those works. Rather, what follows are particularly practical sources of information on end-of-life, death care and funeral issues in the U.S. and other western countries, with an emphasis on resources for logistical preparation for death. As such, many of the below are not produced with a Buddhist perspective but are nonetheless indispensable for dharma students.
Funeral Consumer’s Alliance: The FCA, which has many local and regional chapters, is the go-to resource for practical death preparation info. The FCA’s “Before I Go, You Should Know” kit contains copies of your state’s advance health directives (“living will” and healthcare power of attorney). There is also comprehensive info about care of bodies and funerals in your state, and a booklet to fill out with virtually all the information survivors will need to care for and memorialize the deceased. It all comes in a handy plastic envelope and a fridge magnet bearing a jaunty illustration by Edward Gorey and the words “Matters of Life and Death Inside” (FCA recommends keeping the packet in the freezer; it will be out of harm’s way, and easy to locate when needed). www.funerals.org
Crossings: A resource center for home funeral and green burial care founded by Beth Knox, who offers workshops across the country on how to conduct a home funeral. Crossings publishes an excellent resource guide for home funeral care, available at www.crossings.net
Final Passages: A California-based organization dedicated to training and helping people conduct home funerals; they also publish an excellent handbook, available at www.finalpassages.org
Aging with Dignity: AWD produces “Five Wishes,” a widely-used “living will” template that lets family and physicians know 1) who you want to make health care decisions for you when you can’t, 2) the kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want, 3) how comfortable you want to be, 4) how you want to be treated and 5) what you want your loved ones to know. Available at www.agingwithdignity.org
http://www.buddhanet.net/hospices.htm: a list of Buddhist hospices around the world, including those operating in the U.S.
http://www.funeralethics.org: Provides state-specific information regarding funeral consumer rights and laws
http://www.lastthings.net/home-funerals.html: Maine-based organization, with much advice and resources for people living anywhere in the U.S.
http://homefuneraldirectory.com: home funeral information and guides for North America
- Living into Dying: A Journal of Spiritual and Practical Deathcare for Family and Community by Nancy Jewel Poer—a godmother of the home funeral revival in America describes the how and why of death care for dozens of her loved ones, including her first born child; chockfull of practical examples.
- Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial by Mark Harris—a comprehensive look at the care and disposition of bodies in America today, from embalming to natural burial, with excellent resource guides on choosing a coffin, home funerals and green funeralsin.
- In Passing: A Book About Death by Todd Herman—a beautiful and poignant assemblage of art, photographs and writings about death
- Alison’s Gift by Pat Hogan—Beth Knox, founder of “Crossings,” lost her seven-year-old daughter in a low-speed car accident. This is the story of her home funeral.
- Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death by Lisa Carlson and Josh Slocum and Your Final Act of Love by Lisa Carlson—These two volumes, by the founders of the Funeral Consumer’s Alliance, are comprehensive guides to funeral issues and laws, state by state.
- Beyond Coping: A Study Guide on Aging, Illness, Death and Separation—a guided compendium of teachings on illness, age and death from the Pali Canon, translated and edited by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
- Going Out Green: One Man’s Adventures Planning His Own Burial by Bob Butz
- Dying at Home: A Family Guide for Caregiving by Andrea Sakar—a comprehensive guide for caring for the dying at home
- Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs and Communications of the Dying by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley—written by two hospice nurses, Final Gifts is a touchstone for people who work with dying.
- Death: The Final Stage of Growth by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross—just one of a series of books by a pioneer in death and dying work in America, her books are classics on the subject.
“Being a Compassionate Companion: Teachings, stories and practical wisdom for those accompanying someone who is dying” An intimate conversation with Frank Ostaseki, from the Zen Hospice Project (available through www.zenhospice.org)
“Being with Dying: Contemplative Practices and Teachings” by Joan Halifax a recorded course that grew out of Halifax’s “Being with Dying Project,” to help healthcare professionals and their patients see death in terms of compassion and awakening. (www.soundstrue.com)
A Family Undertaking—produced and directed by Beth Westrate, this is an extraordinary, inspiring look at families who have chosen to care for their own dead and the contrast with commercial funerals. (available through Netflix or
Consider the Conversation: A Documentary on a Taboo Subject—produced and co-directed by a hospice director, this film examines multiple perspectives on end-of-life care.
Passing Through Our Hands—a how-to video for people who want to learn about after-death care and home funerals, but who cannot attend a training workshop (available at http://www.passingthroughourhands.com)