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20 Best Books About Death to Educate and Encourage

Gabrielle Applebury
Businesswoman Reading Book In Train

Literature about death and dying can help those who are in the process of losing a loved one, or have been diagnosed with a terminal illness feel more educated and prepared for what they may experience. It can also provide comfort, validation, and support during the grieving period after someone has passed away.

Books About Coping With a Terminal Illness

If you or a loved one is experiencing a terminal illness, it can be helpful to have some literature that can speak to this specific moment in life. Books about having a terminal illness can provide support, resources, and validation for the individual diagnosed with a terminal illness.

When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air, written by Paul Kalanithi, is a memoir about the author's journey going from a neurosurgeon to an individual diagnosed with terminal cancer. This book explores the shift that takes place when the author is diagnosed with a terminal illness and leans into his own mortality. This memoir was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and was number one on the New York Times bestsellers list.

The Art of Dying

The Art of Dying, written by Patricia Weenolsen, explores case studies of people facing their own terminal illnesses and also touches upon the author's own brush with death. Weenolsen is a psychologist who specializes in working with those who are experiencing end of life related issues. This book received incredibly high ratings with readers noting how helpful, candid, and frank this book is.

The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch is a true story of the author's experience as a professor at Carnegie Mellon, and as an individual diagnosed with a terminal illness. This uplifting book speaks to embracing life and achieving meaningful goals you've set out for. This book received very high ratings and speaks to shifting your perspective when it comes to the impermanence of life.

Being With Death: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Face of Death

Being With Death by Joan Halifax explores the author's experience of working with terminally ill individuals and incorporates Buddhist teachings about life and death. This book focuses on embracing the journey of passing away and viewing it with a fresh perspective. This book works well for those who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and also for those who are their caretakers or loved ones. This book received 4.5 out of 5 stars and has been reviewed by over 100 people.

Books About Coping With the Death of a Loved One

It can be incredibly debilitating to learn about a loved one who is in the process of passing away. Books about coping with death can help provide support and validation to survivors.

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye by Barbara Okun was written collaboratively with Harvard Health Publications. This book explores the shift in family dynamics when someone is in the process of passing away. This book also focuses specifically on those who are experiencing a long passing away period with their loved one. With real-life examples from the author, this is an incredibly helpful book for anyone who is struggling during a loved one's process of passing away.

Tuesdays With Morrie

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Alborn is a bestselling memoir that shares the story of the author's relationship with his mentor, Morrie. This book explores what it is like to be with someone during their dying process, as well as what it is like to cope after they have passed away. This book is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary and is still a top seller.

Final Gifts

Final Gifts by Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley shares the true story of the authors' experiences as hospice nurses. This book explores the unique ways in which those passing away share their needs and wants with others. Sometimes the needs are communicated in ways that their loved ones may not notice or understand, and this book sheds light on the 20 years of experience that these authors have with those actively dying.

On Death and Dying

On Death and Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross compiles the experience those who are dying, their loved ones, as well as their treating doctors and caregivers may face during this complex process. Kubler-Ross, now deceased, was the groundbreaking force behind labeling and explaining the five stages of grief. Her work has helped countless individuals who are in the process of dying, or who have loved ones who have passed away.

The Year of Magical Thinking

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion shares the author's true experience of losing her beloved husband. The book flashes back and forth between her grieving process and beautiful memories she recalls about her relationship with her partner. This book is a bestseller and won the National Book Award.

A Grief Observed

A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis shares the author's experience of losing his wife and the difficult issues he grapples with after she's passed away. C.S. Lewis wrote more than 30 books and is well known for the renowned Narnia book series he created.

Books About Understanding Death and Dying for Children

It can be difficult to discuss death and dying with children. Often times, they may ask questions that we aren't sure how to answer. Books can provide a great jumping off point when it comes to processing this difficult concept with little ones.

The Heart and the Bottle

The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is the winner of British Book Design Award, as well as the V&A Book Illustrated Award. This sweet book explores the story of a little girl who lost someone very dear to her and as a result places her heart in a bottle. As the little girl explores her beloved relationship and grieves, she begins to understand how to hold her own heart again.

The Dead Bird

The Dead Bird by Margaret Wise Brown is a New York Times Bestseller that explores what a group of children do when they find a bird who has passed away. In this sweet book, the children throw the bird a special funeral and honor its life. Wise Brown is known for writing Goodnight Moon, a classic that still stands the test of time even though it was published in 1947.

Ida, Always

Ida, Always by Caron Levis is a story abut two best friend polar bears who grapple with one of them being very sick and eventually passing away. This story explores the beauty of friendship and the profound loss one feels after losing a beloved buddy. This book has won multiple awards, including the Christopher Award and the Sakura Medal.

Someone I Love Died

Someone I Love Died by Christine Harder Tangvald is an interactive book for those ages four and up who have lost someone they love. This book explores grief and healthy coping skills at an age appropriate level. Harder Tangvald is a best-selling children's author who has written over 100 books for little ones.

Something Very Sad Happened

Something Very Sad Happened by Bonnie Zucker is written specifically for very young children ages two to three who are coping with a loss. Zucker is a licensed psychologist who wrote this book to help caregivers explain the dying process and grief to little ones while also assisting them in cultivating healthy coping skills.

Books About Death

Better understanding death can provide comfort and shift an individual's perspective about life in general. There are tons of incredible book options that discuss death, dying, grief, and coping with loss.

Being Mortal

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande is a New York Times bestseller and is also the winner of the Book of the Year. This book incorporates medical research with the author's life experience as a surgeon to explain the aging process and how modern medicine works with those who are in the process of dying, as well as critiques key healthcare components.

How We Die

How We Die by Sherwin B. Nuland is a National Book Award Winner and a best-selling story about the author's experience with the dying process. This book explores the most common avenues of death, as well as the author's honest experience with the healthcare system. This candid book breaks down different cultural perspectives on death and dives into what it really is.


Stiff by Mary Roach is a New York Times Bestseller, Winner of the Elle Reader Prize, and Amazon Editor's Choice. Roach explores what happens to cadavers after someone has passed away. This book is a unique combination of honest, funny, and candidly real when it comes to the death and the realities that cadavers face.

A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines is the Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and is an official Oprah Book Club Selection. This story explores the complex relationship between two young men, one on death row for a crime he didn't do. This book touches on what it means to be human, to be a good person, to be brave, and how to face death head on.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty is a New York Times Bestselling memoir about the author's experience working in a crematory. This book examines the history of working with the dead, explores her view of the passed away individuals she encounters at her job, and discusses the culture around death and dying.

Finding Helpful Resources

Literature can be immensely helpful as a resource whether you are experiencing a terminal illness, are in the process of passing away, have a loved one in the dying process, or have lost a beloved individual. Look for books that touch on your specific experience so you can get the most out of these resources.

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20 Best Books About Death to Educate and Encourage