Hurry Up. Time is of the Essence: Must-reads for the Dying

Taking up from where we left off in last week’s post, someone pointed out that while there are books for the bereaved, there is a dearth of such books for the dying. Besides the constantly shifting population of such an audience, even finding them and letting them know about such literature would feel exploitative to me. Whenever I read a post by someone who is describing their own endgame for example, I steer clear of making requests, even just of their reading time, since they are in crisis or near to it. The answer, of course, is to hope friends of the dying will chance upon relevant materials and pass them on, so to speak.

That being said, I think in the end this is an unanswerable question. I remember seeing an article about a similar subject, namely, what music a dying person might want to listen to. (Sorry, I have lost track of the reference.) They came up with serious choices like Mozart’s Requiem, or very peaceful sounding and soothing pieces like Barber’s Adagio for Strings. But what I think I or others might want to hear when the time comes might be wrong for at least two reasons: First I must ask myself, do I have some stereotype in my mind about what people need when they die? Suppose they want something energetic and rebellious like Pink Floyd’s We Don’t Want No Education, or something the antithesis of inspirational like the Beatles’ The Fool on the Hill?

For another thing, how could I possibly know what I might be in the mood for when I reach my dying days? I don’t even know what kind of music I will feel like listening to next week! Such things as what I want to listen to or what I want to read from day to day partly arises from recent influences, how tumultuous or tedious or uplifting the week has been, and what I happen to find while browsing.

The subscriber I quoted from last week on this same topic added, right after her question that “I might want to read everything I could get my hands on…..or maybe I wouldn’t.” Just as there might not be a one-size-fits-all afterlife in store for each of us, our must- or must not- read book list may vary widely as we all approach the last pages of our own stories.

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Next post: Book review of Art Buchwald’s Stella in Heaven

7 thoughts on “Hurry Up. Time is of the Essence: Must-reads for the Dying

  1. Vicki says:

    Thanks for the wise words.


  2. As usual, you’ve got me thinking, Karen. As you say, I can’t be sure what I’ll be in the mood for when the time comes (I’m aiming for 108 anyway so another – something – years to go; i can’t be too specific here!). But I feel sure that lots of Bach will definitely be on the cards. And, as for books, at the moment I can only think of my favourite French author, Henri Troyat – more or less unknown over here in England but a hugely popular author in France – mostly, I have to admit, with the older generation (the generation that had not discovered nihilism).


    • He is unknown to me as well; I hope I’m not revealing what a barbarian I am. Please tell me what is so compelling about him to you that he gets top billing for your last read.


      • No one outside France seems to have heard of him. He has written about 100 novels and is a member of l’Academie Francaise. I love his books because they are ‘full of heart’ is the nearest I can describe them. At the age of 11 he was a refugee from Russia to France and this colours a lot of his characters. He has also written weighty tomes about French and Russian writers,poets, tsars and kings. I was plucking up courage to ask him for an invitation to lunch in Paris (this is a bit tongue in cheek!) when he died, at the age of 85 (I think). This was about 10 years ago. What with his age and the level of my French at the time, it could have been a difficult lunch but I like to think we could have smiled a great deal!!
        These days my heart is more in English writing. Well, both French and English.


  3. Kathy Loh says:

    Happy to find your blog! When my father was dying, he liked to listen to Keola Beemer Hawaiian music, sometimes with Carlos Nakai. I found that interesting as he’d always been a classical music fan. He was not much of a reader, being an engineer, but he spent a lot of time clearing out his files (he was self-employed) and I sat with him as he showed me schematics and other documents, sharing them with me and then sending them to the shredder. It was a precious time for us both.


    • We may not know what kind of music may touch us in advance, but once we find out what touches others, as with your father, we can then learn about new music that we have missed out on. The fact itself that it is associated with someone’s nearness to death is a sign that the music is worth getting to know. Or at least, that it sheds some light on the values and pleasures and cultural heritage of the one dying. I promptly went to Youtube of course and listened to a sample of Keola Beemer. Perhaps, if your father had a connection with Hawaii, his cultural roots and beginnings of his life story might have called to him to listen to Beemer, rather than simply have the pleasure of listening to classical, beautiful but isolated from any of your father’s key experiences.


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