A NEW YORK TIMES BOOK CRITICS’ TOP 10 BOOK OF THE YEAR
“In its loving, fierce specificity, this book on how to die is also a blessedly saccharine-free guide for how to live” (The New York Times).
Former NEA fellow and Pushcart Prize-winning writer Sallie Tisdale offers a lyrical, thought-provoking, yet practical perspective on death and dying in Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them). Informed by her many years working as a nurse, with more than a decade in palliative care, Tisdale provides a frank, direct, and compassionate meditation on the inevitable.
From the sublime (the faint sound of Mozart as you take your last breath) to the ridiculous (lessons on how to close the sagging jaw of a corpse), Tisdale leads us through the peaks and troughs of death with a calm, wise, and humorous hand. Advice for Future Corpses is more than a how-to manual or a spiritual bible: it is a graceful compilation of honest and intimate anecdotes based on the deaths Tisdale has witnessed in her work and life, as well as stories from cultures, traditions, and literature around the world.
Tisdale explores all the heartbreaking, beautiful, terrifying, confusing, absurd, and even joyful experiences that accompany the work of dying, including:
A Good Death: What does it mean to die “a good death”? Can there be more than one kind of good death? What can I do to make my death, or the deaths of my loved ones, good?
Communication: What to say and not to say, what to ask, and when, from the dying, loved ones, doctors, and more.
Last Months, Weeks, Days, and Hours: What you might expect, physically and emotionally, including the limitations, freedoms, pain, and joy of this unique time.
Bodies: What happens to a body after death? What options are available to me after my death, and how do I choose—and make sure my wishes are followed?
Grief: “Grief is the story that must be told over and over...Grief is the breath after the last one.”
Beautifully written and compulsively readable, Advice for Future Corpses offers the resources and reassurance that we all need for planning the ends of our lives, and is essential reading for future corpses everywhere. “Sallie Tisdale’s elegantly understated new book pretends to be a user’s guide when in fact it’s a profound meditation” (David Shields, bestselling author of Reality Hunger).
Tisdale (Violation: Collected Essays), a former nurse, offers an intimate insider's look at dying, aimed at both caregivers and mortally ill people. By turns philosophical and pragmatic, Tisdale gently prods readers to make plans while they can. She meditates on the possibility of procuring a "good death," surveys body disposal practices from different times and cultures, and compassionately illustrates her themes with anecdotes from the lives and deaths of close friends. They include Carol, a lawyer who "had rarely been sick in her life" but was diagnosed with breast cancer soon after being elected as her rural county's first female judge, and Butch, an ex-con diagnosed with liver cancer a few years after being released from the prison he'd spent most of his adult life in. Much of the book is organized chronologically, with various chapters charting the "Last Months," "Last Weeks," "Last Days," and "That Moment." Of particular note are the appendices on advance directives, organ donation, and euthanasia, which are written in clear, accessible language. Tisdale's forthright narrative voice, charmingly bossy in style ("Be very careful about odors.... You don't want to be the most nauseating thing that happens in the day"), is so generous and kind in spirit that readers will gladly follow along.