I started reading this book shortly after the death of my step-father and my mother's being diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. As I joined my siblings to help our mother deal with the death of her husband, and to help her adjust to the knowledge of her own condition, I used this book to keep me from getting lost in a whirlpool of thoughts and feelings that would have been of no help to anyone.
I would read the book and see exactly where the things Lief discusses in her work could be applied in my own situation. I tested it, on the spot. It works. There's no magic to this book, no secret code to it. Don't be put off by the fact that it's a "Buddhist" guide...you could be Catholic, Hindu, Muslim or Jewish, from any walk of life, any race or creed, on any spiritual path, and still benefit tremendously from this book.
You don't necessarily have to be "dying" or standing next to someone who's dying to benefit from the book as well. It's really a book for people who are living, moment-to-moment, in the vulnerable awareness of death as a fact of life, something not to be avoided, but met, befriended.
Lief has a simple, direct way of speaking about the dying and those who are near to them, caring for them, as they are dying. She has the kind of light touch and sense of humor (at specific points) that indicate the true depth and intensity of her point of view. There is a warmth throughout the work that gives you a sense that she's not in some ivory tower somewhere "thinking" about the best way for people to handle death. Neither is she in a cave in Tibet "having dreams and visions" about it. You get the sense, as you read the work, that she's standing right next to you, helping you to work your way through your own situation. I never felt, as I read the book, that she was an outsider looking in on my situation.
It's a good book for people going through transitions of any sort whatsoever. People aren't the only things that die. Relationships, jobs, dreams, institutions, ideas...all these things die too and in a very subtle way, Lief's book helps us to deal with the death (and birth) of these things too.
Something about this book makes you feel very connected to life.
This is an excellent down to earth guide to the various issues surrounding death. The first section is entitled "Cultivating a personal awareness of death." Many analogies and examples that we can all relate to are given about our views of the subject. Simple excercises at the end of each chapter give the reader a chance to illuminate his or her views. Meditation practice is introduced as a tool to make friends with ourselves and to settle our minds. Then contemplation of death is introduced to help us face death and change with equanimity and to develop a reverence for life. The second section is entitled "Opening our Heart". Here Lief describes how the simplicity of death cuts through our superflouous concerns and opens. The various descriptions of dysfunctional compassion are the best I've seen anywhere and worth it for all of us to check out. The final section is practical advise in the form of "slogans" or reminders to help us when we are actually working with a dying person. This is a book that is useful at any time in one's life so that when one does encounter death, be it one's own or a close frind or relative, one is able to respond with composure and kindness.