4 out of 4 stars
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Physical death is not optional. It is a human inevitability that we can’t test, cheat, or buy our way out of. Our spiritual and personal experiences inform what we believe about death and how we choose to prepare for it. Jilliana Raymond, an end-of-life doula and spiritual consultant, addresses these subjects in her 2019 book Before Your Last Breath: Your Spiritual Transition and End-of-Life Planning.
Raymond’s book serves multiple functions. It is primarily a comprehensive guide to help people prepare themselves and loved ones for their death passage. The practical runs concurrently with a certain, sometimes esoteric, spiritual orientation. Raymond shares her beliefs about the afterlife, based on her work as an end-of-life doula, a non-medical support for death transitions. She has witnessed death and interviewed individuals who have had near-death experiences. Her work supports her belief that death is but “an inviting image of an awaiting spiritual life.”
Practically, the book is very complete. From medical directives and personal wishes to after-death procedures and funeral matters, Raymond covers tremendous ground. She includes important first steps to be carried out by your personal representative. Most of us will be in that position at least once, and the first time is pretty overwhelming. The final section includes state-by-state funeral costs and legal requirements as well as sample documents and useful forms.
I was impressed with this book. Raymond not only guides you through end-of-life planning; she gives you the tools. Maybe you want to direct your survivors to your passwords – or you realize a friend not known to your family would want to be notified if you died. There are forms in the book for recording these items.
Raymond encourages preparing spiritually for your own death by cleaning up unfinished business, such as apologies, thank-yous, and areas needing forgiveness. She outlines what happens as we closely approach death, using just enough detail to demonstrate what to expect if a loved one is dying. Though it’s impossible to predict, understanding some of the known markers may soothe in an angst-filled time.
I was mildly tripped up by Raymond’s characterization of the afterlife. She writes about the loving embrace that awaits, though those who have “lived on the fringe of society” or feel their lives to be unfair may experience something different. It rings strangely to be told by anyone, a priest, evangelical, atheist, or spiritual doula, a story about something that can’t possibly be predicted. I felt a bristle, thinking someone who experienced a particularly hard life might not be equally received with love.
Technically, this book is presented cleanly and professionally. The digestible sections facilitate understanding of the sometimes uncomfortable subject matter. Raymond’s editor did a fine job as I found only a few minor errors.
Having witnessed numerous death passages and settled as many family estates, I am familiar with this material. Jilliana Raymond is broadly knowledgeable about the subject matter. While the content may be challenging for people who prefer not to look at death, the author meets this with directness and sensitivity. Based on this and the impeccable presentation, I offer Before Your Last Breath 4 out of 4 stars.
It’s not uncommon for people to avoid end-of-life planning. Inadequate preparation often creates an unnecessary burden for our survivors. This comprehensive guide may make it easier to make the effort and face the inevitable. I can’t think of an adult who wouldn’t benefit from this book. Whether you are well-versed in end-of-life matters or are uncomfortable thinking about it, this book can serve as a hands-on guide or an initial introduction to the topic.
Before Your Last Breath
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