The accolades are starting to pour in for "On Living" (Riverhead Books), by Kerry Egan, a 1995 alumna of Washington and Lee University.
People Magazine listed it among the 12 best new books for fall: "Illuminating, unflinching and ultimately inspiring, it presents 'the spiritual work of dying' as a profound process with undeniable elements of beauty."
The Washington Post wrote, "Thoughtful and refreshingly unpretentious… insights continue to resonate for days after you’ve finished reading."
And bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love), praised the book on her Facebook page, saying, "This is a poetic and philosophical and brave and uplifting meditation on how important it is to make peace and meaning of our lives while we still have them."
The conversation began on this difficult topic in 2012 when Kerry, a hospice chaplain in Massachusetts, wrote an essay about death and dying that drew over 3,000 comments in 24 hours on the CNN website. In that piece, titled "What People Talk About Before They Die," Kerry noted that patients often talked about families and love because "that is how we talk about God. That is how we talk about the meaning of our lives. That is how we talk about the big spiritual questions of human existence."
In her book, Kerry reflects on the important lessons her patients passed on to her. She writes, "I had been holding on to patients’ stories for many years…, stories the patients had poured out and puzzled over, the stories they turned over in their minds like rosary beads and worn Bibles they turned over in their hands."
Each patient, she noted, taught her something — how to find courage in the face of fear or the strength to make amends; how to be profoundly compassionate and fiercely empathetic; how to see the world in grays instead of in black and white.
You can listen to Kerry's thoughts on death, dying and living in her interview on NPR’s "Fresh Air," which aired on Monday, Oct. 31. She’s also recorded a podcast with Reading By Robin, available on iTunes.