Meeting High Standards: A Chaplain Reviews Encountering the Edge

What follows after the announcement is the first official review of Encountering the Edge. Even though Chaplain Kinzbrunner focuses on my final chapter as an especially elaborate death awareness exercise, no spoiler alerts are needed if you read this review. Kinzbrunner is a professional health care chaplain, whose point-of-view here and at his blog in general may be especially intriguing to others in the health care field. -Karen B. Kaplan


Annoucement: The Publisher, at is offering a 20% discount on all their books for the merry month of May for the U.S. and Canada. You can also get Encountering the Edge at Amazon at the link


The World of Pastoral and Spiritual care

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of the book, Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died  by Hospice Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan.

Over the weekend, I took advantage of some quiet on Shabbat afternoon to begin reading a book sent to me for review.  I had skimmed it upon receipt and figured it would be an easy read, as it appeared to be a book of stories about the hospice experiences of a chaplain.  I have read books by hospice professionals describing their work in story form, offering readers an insider’s look at the process of death and dying.  So there I was, reading the book, and I suddenly realized halfway through that this book was more than merely anecdotal.

Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died, describes hospice chaplaincy in an intimate, personal way.  The book allowed me, a hospice chaplain for 9…

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Ambivalence Par Excellence

“Of all possible subjects, why did you have to go and write a book about THAT?” Perplexed and repelled in equal measure, that was more than one person’s reaction to my writing a hospice career memoir. Another good fellow’s reaction along the same lines was, “Who would want to read stories about people who were about to drop dead?” He believes that Encountering the Edge would only interest chaplains and such. No doubt about it. Some people I know make dead sure I get their drift.

On the other extreme, before I started the book, I got comments like “You should write a book about that.” After I finished it, others said, “That title is sure a grabber.” And, “We need more books like that to get this subject out in the open.” Naturally these are more to my liking, but I think most people coming across the subject of hospice will experience elements of both reactions: Curious but wary. Intrigued but repulsed. And so it is with death in general. While it is the greatest mystery to ponder, the very consideration of it can evoke fear, dread, and other lovelies.

Ambivalence was the challenge before me: How to get a prospective reader to at least glance at the back cover and peer at the opening pages? If I could get him/her to do that, I would have it made… Well, at least I’d have a fighting chance they would not sprint away from the book. My solution was to address the ambivalence at the outset. Here is an excerpt of what I mean from the Introduction:

“Throughout my seven-year career of encountering people at death’s door, friends and family have puzzled over my offbeat choice of career. ‘Isn’t it depressing? Doesn’t it get you down?’ easily takes first place for most frequently asked questions. Other top contenders I get include, ‘What do people near the end want to talk about and what do you say to them? What wisdom do they share? Come crunch time, what do they really believe will happen to them? How do they cope with knowing their time is near?’ One of my own favorites, which even the patients themselves ask, is ‘Why do you want to do this kind of work?’ (Read: ’Why on earth would you want to? You must be a little strange.’)”

“…But then again, you may be curious about how my visits with people from all walks of life have shaped my beliefs about the meaning of life and the nature of the afterlife. You might wonder what you would witness if you could invisibly accompany me on my visits. You might wonder what it is like to constantly improvise how to respond depending on the patient’s personality, mood, presence of family or of medical professionals, ethnic and racial background, and even socioeconomic level.”

“…The aim of each anecdote in this book is to portray how the moments in question were adventurous, inspiring, meaningful, perplexing, or otherwise authentic to those present. As you peruse these tales, you may in turn have these reactions, or at least get a glimpse into a time of life that was a fertile ground for the patient’s search for meaning and for the affirmation of what each valued most.”


For another free excerpt from the book,  plus a view of a gorgeous cover to uh, “die for,” you can go to the publisher’s author page at this link:     Inquiries about reviewing the book are most welcome.


Not an April Fool’s Joke

If you can’t wait to see even these unpolished and brusquely edited posts I have been sending since last July, then you may very well be um, “dying” to get your hands on my book, Encountering The Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died. I lovingly polished and buffed everything in it from periods and commas to entire chapters (with the help of friends and editors). If you are so lucky as to have a U.S. or Canadian shipping address, [Dear Canada! I talked the publisher into including you as well in this offer.] then you can get a 15% discount by preordering the book through April 22nd. Due to the complexity of having various shipping charges, Pen-L unfortunately cannot extend this pre-ordering to anyone else.

Everyone can see my author page right at the publisher’s site, including a free excerpt. and picture of the cover. The site is,

I look forward to resuming my regular posts  reasonably soon. As always, I am  open to suggested topics and to written contributions, as well as to the insightful comments I have been receiving.  Inquiries for candid reviews of the book are welcome.