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On Living

Cover of On Living

On Living

Named a Best Book of 2016 by Real Simple and Southern Living
"Illuminating, unflinching and ultimately inspiring... A book to treasure." –People Magazine

"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."Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author ofEat Pray Love
A hospice chaplain passes on wisdom on giving meaning to life, from those taking leave of it.

As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan didn't offer sermons or prayers, unless they were requested; in fact, she found, the dying rarely want to talk about God, at least not overtly. Instead, she discovered she'd been granted an invaluable chance to witness firsthand what she calls the "spiritual work of dying"—the work of finding or making meaning of one's life, the experiences it's contained and the people who have touched it, the betrayals, wounds, unfinished business, and unrealized dreams. Instead of talking, she mainly listened: to stories of hope and regret, shame and pride, mystery and revelation and secrets held too long. Most of all, though, she listened as her patients talked about love—love for their children and partners and friends; love they didn't know how to offer; love they gave unconditionally; love they, sometimes belatedly, learned to grant themselves.
This isn't a book about dying—it's a book about living. And Egan isn't just passively bearing witness to these stories. An emergency procedure during the birth of her first child left her physically whole but emotionally and spiritually adrift. Her work as a hospice chaplain healed her, from a brokenness she came to see we all share. Each of her patients 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 black and white. In this poignant, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along all their precious and necessary gifts.
Named a Best Book of 2016 by Real Simple and Southern Living
"Illuminating, unflinching and ultimately inspiring... A book to treasure." –People Magazine

"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."Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author ofEat Pray Love
A hospice chaplain passes on wisdom on giving meaning to life, from those taking leave of it.

As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan didn't offer sermons or prayers, unless they were requested; in fact, she found, the dying rarely want to talk about God, at least not overtly. Instead, she discovered she'd been granted an invaluable chance to witness firsthand what she calls the "spiritual work of dying"—the work of finding or making meaning of one's life, the experiences it's contained and the people who have touched it, the betrayals, wounds, unfinished business, and unrealized dreams. Instead of talking, she mainly listened: to stories of hope and regret, shame and pride, mystery and revelation and secrets held too long. Most of all, though, she listened as her patients talked about love—love for their children and partners and friends; love they didn't know how to offer; love they gave unconditionally; love they, sometimes belatedly, learned to grant themselves.
This isn't a book about dying—it's a book about living. And Egan isn't just passively bearing witness to these stories. An emergency procedure during the birth of her first child left her physically whole but emotionally and spiritually adrift. Her work as a hospice chaplain healed her, from a brokenness she came to see we all share. Each of her patients 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 black and white. In this poignant, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along all their precious and necessary gifts.
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  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from August 8, 2016
    In her sophomore outing, Egan (Fumbling: A Journey of Love, Adventure and Renewal on the Camino de Santiago) masters the art of imparting critical life advice without coming off as preachy—a difficult feat. The author, a graduate of the Harvard Divinity School, works as an end-of-life chaplain—a profession sometimes belittled by others (a woman at her book club asks her, “You consider this work?”), yet helpful to those who need a healing catharsis in the limited time left to them, such as a mother who bore her son out of wedlock and lied to him about the identity of his father, and a father who blames himself for his four-year-old son’s death from meningitis. Egan is no stranger to sorrow herself, having experienced a psychotic break when doctors used ketamine during her emergency C-section, after her epidural anesthesia failed. Most of all, Egan’s empathetic tone is a comfort for both the healthy and the dying—whom, she opines, are not polar opposites. “People don’t somehow transform drastically into something else when they’re dying,” she says. “They’re just doing something you haven’t done yet.” Egan also counsels that things are never as they appear, that there are layers to every decision, good and bad. As the title suggests, this is not just a book about dying. It’s one that will inspire readers to make the most of every day.

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