All good things, as they say, must come to an end.

An entertaining movie, a beautiful song, a warm get-together — they have a finite time and then they’re done. The same holds true for a life well-lived, and with “A Beginner’s Guide to the End” by BJ Miller, MD and Shoshana Berger, you’ll know your finale is the way it should be.

The diagnosis arrived and you haven’t quite decided what to do with it. The fact is, you’re dying but you have time to adjust. So do your loved ones.

“There is nothing wrong with you for dying,” the authors say, even though social verbiage refers to it as “failure” or a lost “battle.” You’re dying, and everybody does it eventually but there are ways to prepare for it.

First, clear your head, “clean out your attic.” Get rid of things you know your kids won’t want or need, donate, re-gift, assign heirlooms. While you’re cleaning physically, clean emotionally, too, by tying up loose ends and saying words that need saying.

Like every other important step in life, death requires paperwork. Hire a lawyer, if you must, but get your will in order, sign an advance directive, talk to your doctor, and do it annually because things will change. This is also the time to put your finances in order: dying costs a lot of money.

Learn to cope with emotions when you begin to truly feel sick, and know how to take stock and communicate succinctly. Talk with your doctors with the same preciseness: you’ll have lots of questions going forth, so know how and what to ask and how to accept the answers you get.

Everyone is afraid of death; it’s “the mother of all fears” but you can cope with those feelings, too. Learn how to tell people about your diagnosis, how to maintain romantic relationships, how to choose end-of-life care, “hospital hacks,” and how to get the care you need. Finally, take control of the funeral.

It’s been your life. Now it’s your death.

Readers searching for a comprehensive, matter-of-fact, easy-to-understand book on navigating the end of a life can stop looking. “A Beginner’s Guide to the End” is pretty much exactly what you want.

Authors BJ Miller and Shoshana Berger start with an inner journey, by helping readers sort through emotions and belongings long before they’ve informed anyone of what’s to come. Indeed, telling friends and family is a few chapters hence but let that placement underscore what the authors say: there’s no timeline or correct way to die. It’s your death. Still, having this book around could be comforting, since it seems to touch upon every question one might ask and the authors don’t leave anyone out: there’s ample information here for caregivers and a chapter on talking to children about death.

Because you never know the future, this is a book to have on hand even if you’re hale and hearty. Like a thorough Scout, always be prepared; “A Beginner’s Guide to the End” is a good start.

Contact book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer at or at


I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.

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