Drawing on her experiences as a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan writes about the long-held secrets and startling revelations of those on the precipice of dying. An examination of the nostalgia that is brought about by mortality and the boundless spirituality that comes with it, On Living is a powerful read that brings our buried fears to the fore and leaves its readers wondering if they are truly living their life to the fullest.
"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 of Eat Pray Love
"Illuminating, unflinching and ultimately inspiring... A book to treasure.” –People Magazine 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 a powerful 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 about what matters in the end—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 hopeful, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along all their precious and necessary gifts.
About the Author
Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. Her hospice work has been featured on PBS and CNN, and her essays have appeared in Parents, American Baby, Reader’s Digest, and CNN.com, where they have been read more than two million times. She and her family live in Columbia,South Carolina.
“Funny, honest, and self-deprecating…On Living adds to the understanding of end-of-life issues in an important and accessible way…If there is one thing death teaches us, it’s how to live.”–New York Times Book Review
"Illuminating, unflinching and ultimately inspiring, [On Living] presents “the spiritual work of dying” as a profound process with undeniable elements of beauty. A book to treasure.” –People Magazine
"This isn’t a self-help book, but in its own way it inspires and instructs. Ms. Egan, a hospice chaplain, has a down-to-earth, never-preachy style.” –The Wall Street Journal
"On Living... is about what makes us human." –Houston Chronicle
"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 of Eat Pray Love
“Egan... works as a hospice chaplain, supporting the spirits of those who are dying. In this book, she compassionately describes and distills what she has learned in their service.” —Boston Globe
“Equal parts memoir and meditative text on the nature of life — and the many faces of faith….this beautiful book will speak to parts of your heart that you didn't even realize were hurting. What's more: It might help heal them.” —Refinery29, Best New Books to Read This Month
“A unique gem of a book... Wise without being preachy, warm without being cloying, Kerry Egan offers a delightful, humorous, and ultimately joyful perspective on what it means to be alive.”—Chicago Review of Books
“Egan’s evocative and eloquent book reminds us that we are defined by the stories we tell, and those stories often reveal how life can be “beautiful and crushing” at the same time.” --BookPage “Terrific…[Egan is] a great storyteller because she's a great story-listener…The stories from patients in this book are compelling. And it's through those stories that we get some helpful insight into the difficult, misunderstood but necessary work of chaplains in hospice settings. When it's time for me to have one, I hope there are more Kerry Egans in the world.”–Faith Matters “Lovely, perceptive, and absorbing…a gem and a blessing.” –LifeZette
“It's the rare book that touches heart and soul. For me, Kerry Egan's remarkable memoir of her experiences as a hospice chaplain, On Living, is that rarity … I wanted to copy inspiring and poignant quotes from every other page…This is no preachy book of clichés, no prayers for the dying — just many reminders that time is short and that beauty, grace and loss exist in every life.” –News Tribune
“In Egan’s narrative, hope takes many shapes… It’s the kind of wisdom that might comfort someone experiencing a pain, suffering loss, or facing death. While belief systems may be filled with arguments and theories, Egan’s perspective is more forgiving, softer, and grayer…By showing how she sits with death, Egan helps reveal what we might be afraid to face.” –Christian Century
“Good dose of humor…beautiful... raw and vulnerable.”–Hannah Creager, Williamsburg Hospice
“This is one of the best books I have read all year: moving, inspiring, beautifully written…It is a book well worth exploring.” –America Magazine
"In her sophomore outing, Egan masters the art of imparting critical life advice without coming off as preachy—a difficult feat…Egan’s empathetic tone is a comfort for both the healthy and the dying—whom, she opines, are not polar opposites…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.” —Publishers Weekly (starred)
"Powerful...in this quick read, Egan takes readers on an emotional journey through many unforgettable lives." —Booklist
“[Egan’s] anecdotes are often thought-provoking combinations of sublime humor and tragic pathos… A moving, heartfelt account of a hospice veteran.” –Kirkus Reviews
“A unique gem of a book... On Living is anything but mournful. In fact, it’s one of the most hopeful and insightful books I’ve read in years. Wise without being preachy, warm without being cloying, Kerry Egan offers a delightful, humorous, and ultimately joyful perspective on what it means to be alive.” —Abby Geni, author of The Lightkeepers
“I know from experience what a blessing hospice can be for patients and their families. Kerry Egan’s insightful book is a blessing as well. A born storyteller, she allows us a glimpse into a little-known world, where ordinary people face death with wit, humor, sadness, and regret. Egan reveals that the job of a chaplain is mostly to listen to them as they work out how to set things right with those they love, and find meaning in their lives.” —Kathleen Norris, author of The Cloister Walk, Amazing Grace, and Acedia and Me
“When I forget the importance of kindness, when I forget to listen, when I no longer recognize the comfort of a quiet presence, when no words will help, when I lose sight of what is most important, I will want On Living within arm's reach, always. I love this book.” —Abigail Thomas, author of AThree Dog Life and What Comes Next and How to Like It
“It's a brave thing to walk into the rooms of the dying with no props--to sit down, open your heart and your mind, and be present to whatever comes up. But that's exactly what chaplain Kerry Egan does, and in On Living, she reveals some of what she has learned. What does come up? Anger, love, regret, secrets, stories, and insights, well-told and well-felt." —Victoria Sweet, author of God’s Hotel