Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death

by Joan Halifax

Paperback, 2009




Zen teacher Joan Halifax has been helping both the dying and their caregivers to face death with courage and compassion for three decades. Here, Joan offers the fruits of her work, providing comfort, inspiration, and practical skills for all those who are in the process of dying or who are charged with a dying person's care. Her teaching, based on Buddhist principles, emphasizes that we have the ability to open up to and rely on our inner strength, and we can help others who are suffering to do the same. Joan offers stories from her personal experience as well as guided exercises and contemplations to help readers meditate on death without fear, develop a commitment to helping others, and transform suffering and resistance into courage.--From publisher description.… (more)


Shambhala (2009), Edition: Reprint, 224 pages


(14 ratings; 4.4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member JudyCroome
BEING WITH DYING is specifically aimed at professional caregivers, but non-professional caregivers, such as family members and friends who provide caregiving for a dying person, will find excellent support to guide them along their spiritual path.

With unflinching honesty and deep compassion for the
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dying person, Halifax explores all the aspects of dying and death that, in being with a dying person, a caregiver may experience. She deals with the spiritual, physical, mental and emotional processes that dying activates and how this affects both the dying person and those around him.

There was some bias against family members and friends acting as caregivers to the dying. All her empathy lies with the dying person, which is as it should be, but Halifax is, at times, quite unsympathetic to the emotional pain, suffering and struggle from the family caregivers’ side. Her negative view of caretaker archetypes reveals a subtle disdain for the role of family caregivers.

Unfortunately, this slightly detracts from the inherent wisdom of her advice and Buddhist philosophy. Not all of us have the temperament or self-mastery to become a detached caregiver. All non-professional caregivers do is try to give their loved ones the best that they can out of love. Yes, with hindsight, the mistakes they make may have made dying more difficult for the departing soul, but the resulting guilt also makes the loss harder to bear even when the non-professional caregiver knows the loved one’s soul is finally at peace. Halifax’s compassion was all for the dying and there was very little left over for the family members living for years in that strange limbo between deep love, anticipatory grief and impending loss.

Despite this, the wise reflections, the meditations and the practical advice presented in BEING WITH DYING helped me through the very trying time of my beloved Father’s active dying. Coincidentally, I started reading this book the night he had his third and final stroke, and I finished it 11 days later, the day after his funeral.

I regret that I only found this book three years after my role as caregiver to my Father began, because I can see the mistakes I made, despite having help from a professional caregiver for the last 18 months. But I do gain some small comfort from the fact that, in the 6 days it took my beloved Father to actively die, I feel this book truly helped me ease his path slightly (by just sitting quietly with him and following his lead.) I also found the breathing meditations helped me calm my mind and relax my body during this intensely emotional time.

Ultimately, BEING WITH DYING was a worthwhile and comforting read for me.

I highly recommend BEING WITH DYING, no matter what stage of the caregiver’s role you are currently in.
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LibraryThing member DanaJean
Joan Halifax has written a wonderful book offering help to those who are dying and their caregivers. I recently lost my mother to breast cancer and my emotions and thoughts are so jumbled and scary, I'm on a journey to come to peace with it all. My anger has overwhelmed me; my despair and
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depression have crippled me; and my loneliness has dominated my days. This book has reassured me about myself personally and has validated my 2 years of care giving--care giving that left me feeling inadequate, impotent, and had me believing I was a horrible daughter and person who now doesn't deserve to have any happiness in my life because I didn't do enough. I still have a long ways to go in my own spiritual recovery, but, this book will be one I go back to frequently on those dark days when I'm beating myself up. I just wish I would have found this book before my mom passed away. Before my whole world changed. I recommend this to every single human being walking this earth. Because someday, you will experience Being with Dying.

I miss my mom.
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