Living with Dying: Books and movies that explore the end of life

We are entering a time of year when curling up under a cozy blanket with a cup of tea and a good book or snuggling on the couch with popcorn for a good movie is just what the doctor ordered. We hope you enjoy these recommendations from members of our partnership.
Hospice Volunteer Services in the MarbleWorks section of downtown Middlebury (directly across from the Addison Independent) has an extensive lending library of books and films. Please feel free to visit us and set up a free account!
Dorothea Langevin: “The Hummingbird” by Stephen P. Kieran, is a hospice nurse’s journey with a patient through his end of life; it is a testament of the work that goes far beyond routine and transforms all — including the reader. A magnetic novel of interwoven life-stories, rich in insightful cultural context, and masterfully conducting two separate timelines into one powerful experience. “My copy of the book is littered with notations of aha! moments — a true gift.”
Margaret Olson: “Coco,” a film by Pixar Animation Studios, uses the yearly Mexican celebration of The Day Of The Dead to speak to cultural differences around grief and loss, death and dying. The deeper focus is about family and legacy as expressed through storytelling and song. “What I love most about this film is how the story depicts the many facets of grief and loss, as well as the life changing transformative opportunities that can happen when we feel supported and validated.”
Laurie Borden: “Modoc,” a biography written by Ralph Helfer, tells the story of a boy and an elephant and their fight to stay together across three continents. “This book demonstrated the breadth and depth of love and loss, and how they are woven together in our lives across cultures, beings and time.”
“Brian’s Song” is a movie aired in 1971 that tells the true story of Brian Piccolo — a football player stricken with terminal cancer after turning pro — and his unlikely friendship with teammate Gale Sayers. “This film taught me that anyone can die and it is OK to cry ’til you’re dry.”
Diana Barnard: “The Fault in Our Stars,” written by John Green (2012) and then made into a movie in 2014, is a beautiful story about two teenagers navigating life and love in the setting of cancer. The story explores the challenges of living with a life-limiting illness — “There is a healthy dose of humor as well as tears.”
“Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing after Loss” (1999) is a lovely illustrated book that addresses the universal and deeply personal experience of grief. In words and pictures, it normalizes the process, explores hope, and shows us how to transform our sadness into healing. “I’ve purchased and given this book to friends and patients of all ages and highly recommend it for your coffee table!”
Priscilla Baker: Julia Alvarez and Sabra Field’s poem/picture book “Where Do They Go?” captures the mystery of what happens after death. Although found in the Children’s section of libraries and book stores, it is a reassuring book for all ages.
Kate Braestrup’s memoir, “Here If You Need Me,” is filled with stories, reflections and wisdom by a woman who became the first chaplain for the Maine Game Warden Service. She is “here” for families, wardens and her own children as they face challenges and all the curveballs life throws our way.
Matt Wollam-Berens also says: “Here If You Need Me” gives a good description of end of life situations from a chaplain’s point of view, as well as that of first responders. “While my experiences in a hospital, rehab and nursing home situation are not as dramatic, the spiritual, emotional and physical aspects to it are very similar. It’s the best book I’ve read about how chaplains deal with death and dying.”
Maureen Conrad: “Confessions of a Funeral Director” “This is a sometimes humorous and always thoughtful description of the life of a funeral director whose family has operated a funeral home for generations. Caleb Wilde writes honestly and openly about the good, the bad and things you never even thought to ask.”
Now we would like to hear from you. What is your favorite book or movie addressing death and dying? Just send in your name, phone number and email with your choice and a quote telling us why it moves you; email [email protected]. On Oct. 31 — Halloween — we will be drawing from all the entries for a prize of $100 in Middlebury Money!

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