Thanatology

(Death, Dying, & Grief)


Thanatology is the study of death and dying. Never heard that word before? It's ok, apparently neither has our spell-check. Read below to learn more.


In Atul Gawande's bestselling book Being Mortal, he discusses how medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession's ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.


Published in 1965, The Meaning of Death is a collection of essays on various topics related to death.You can get it for a penny plus shipping and handling on Amazon. It's reads as very dated in some areas, but can still be an interesting perspective of how we were perceiving and developing our concept of death in the early 60's.


One of the most important psychological studies of the late twentieth century, On Death and Dying grew out of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous interdisciplinary seminar on death, life, and transition. In this remarkable book, Dr. Kübler-Ross first explored the now-famous five stages of death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through sample interviews and conversations, she gives readers a better understanding of how imminent death affects the patient, the professionals who serve that patient, and the patient's family, bringing hope to all who are involved.


The End-of-Life Handbook "address both the emotional and psychological issues associated with death and dying and the practical and medical realities typically dealt with at this time-unusual among titles in this subject area. The authors, a psychologist and medical doctor, are passionate advocates for quality end-of-life care. Author Feldman's background in positive psychology brings an emphasis on hope, inspiration, meaning, and human connection at the end of life to the book. As medical technology progresses and life expectancies edge upward, families are being faced with ever-more-complicated choices as loved ones approach their final hours. This book offers readers much-needed guidance and support for making these often difficult decisions."


"When nurse Norma Bowe decided to teach a course on death at a college in New Jersey, she never expected it to be popular. But year after year students crowd into her classroom, and the reason is clear: Norma’s Death Class is really about how to make the most of what poet Mary Oliver famously called our “one wild and precious life.”

Under the guise of discussions about last wills and last breaths and visits to cemeteries and crematoriums, Norma teaches her students to find grace in one another. By following her over four years, award-winning journalist Erika Hayasaki shows how Norma steers four extraordinary students from their tormented families and neighborhoods toward happiness. "Through this unorthodox class on death, Norma helps kids who are barely hanging on to understand not only the value of their own lives, but also the secret of fulfillment: to throw yourself into helping others. Hayasaki’s expert reporting and literary prose bring Norma’s wisdom out of the classroom, transforming it into an inspiring lesson for all. In the end, Norma’s very own life—and how she lives it—is the lecture that sticks."


Dying Well brings us to the homes and bedsides of families with whom Dr. Byock, a prominent palliative care physician and expert in end of life decisions, has worked, telling stories of love and reconciliation in the face of tragedy, pain, medical drama, and conflict. Through the true stories of patients, he shows us that a lot of important emotional work can be accomplished in the final months, weeks, and even days of life. It is a companion for families, showing them how to deal with doctors, how to talk to loved ones—and how to make the end of life as meaningful and enriching as the beginning.