Summary and book reviews of Happier Endings by Erica Brown

Happier Endings

A Meditation on Life and Death

by Erica Brown

Happier Endings
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2013, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2014, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Stacey Brownlie

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About this Book

Book Summary

A wise and affirming meditation on living fully and preparing for death, written by a highly regarded spiritual teacher.

One of the few certainties in life is that at some point, everyone must leave it. Yet the pragmatic decisions that can bring comfort, aid, and reassurance both to those facing death and those left behind are often sidelined due to fear and denial.

Praised by New York Times columnist David Brooks for combining "extreme empathy with extreme tough-mindedness," Erica Brown is a leading religious scholar and counselor. In Happier Endings, she leads readers on an emotional journey toward preparation for and acceptance of death, drawing on the wisdom found in many faiths and spiritual traditions.

The first step, Brown writes, is to be comfortable discussing death. This kind of honesty allows for important conversations, from financial wills to "ethical wills" - guides you can leave to your family about the values you deem important. Along the way, Brown introduces a number of remarkable people who help others prepare for death: from Cheryl, a woman who prepares bodies for funerals in a small Jewish community in Oklahoma; to the spry mother who encouraged her daughters to sprinkle her ashes on her favorite mountain during a ski trip; to the man whose heirs have been reading his ethical will every year for generations.

As more Americans consider hospice and palliative care, this is both a timely and timeless guide brimming with insight and compassion.

Chapter One
The Business of Death

Aunt Diane and Uncle Roy found Alyssa's body collapsed on the floor in her apartment late one Wednesday afternoon in September after no one had answered her phone for many hours. That afternoon, everything about their lives changed forever. It was every parent's nightmare stretched out before them in graphic horror. In her memoir The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion sums up those painful minutes of devastation that transform families when her own husband died suddenly of a heart attack in the living room: "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."

Alyssa had also died alone, reflecting one of our most persistent fears. We are terrified to die by ourselves, left alone and undiscovered for a long time. The Japanese have a word for it: kodokushi. Translated loosely, it means filonely death.fi In Psychology Today, Professor Bella DePaulo contends that this fear is often treated ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Erica Brown accomplishes much with her new book, Happier Endings: Overcoming the Fear of Death, not the least of which is writing an engaging and uplifting manual on ways to die well. Brown blends humor, personal experience and solid research in her quest to learn about every aspect of mortality. Where other books focus on one aspect of death, such as grief, ethics or commercial concerns, Brown includes them all and synthesizes them into an approachable meditation on a topic Americans love to avoid.   (Reviewed by Stacey Brownlie).

Full Review Members Only (660 words).

Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Brown writes expansively about the long, dark night we all must eventually face, sharing stories from her own reflections as well as those of others who chose not to turn away when faced with their own mortalities. In an appendix, the author examines how to write an "ethical will" and what information to include. The answers these people have earned are by no means applicable to every reader, but their questions, and how they wrestle with them, provide a great deal of insight.

Publishers Weekly

Fear and death don't present themselves as the most ideal topics for a life-affirming book, but Brown manages to overcome negativity in her effort to create happier endings, for the living and the dying.

Library Journal

Starred Review. By no means limited in its appeal to a Jewish readership, this well-presented volume should speak to readers of all spiritualities as well as to those who identify as not spiritual.

Author Blurb David Brooks, The New York Times
Brown has what many people are looking for these days…conviction.

Author Blurb Daniel Silva, author of The Fallen Angel
Erica Brown is wise and brilliant, with a refreshing sense of humor and an enriching perspective on some of life's great challenges. Readers will find comfort and sustenance in her words.

Author Blurb Bruce Feiler, bestselling author of Walking the Bible and The Council of Dads
Erica Brown is the teacher we all want and the guide we all need. Happier Endings is an elegant portrait of the most powerful part of being human: how we live. From the wisdom of the Bible to the frontier of the Internet, this important book makes the persuasive case that the final years of life are among the most critical – and the most meaningful. Bravo.

Author Blurb David Gregory, NBC News
Erica Brown has a unique voice. A woman of faith, she speaks to everyone searching for God and greater meaning. In Happier Endings, Erica explores our attitudes toward death by helping us identify what it means to be alive. She inspires and she reminds us what is most important before we say goodbye.

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Beyond the Book

The Ethical Will

The author of Happier Endings believes that creating an ethical will is an important part of facing and diminishing the fear of death. She includes an appendix with prompts designed to inspire readers to at least begin this potentially intimidating document, and then to work on it a little bit at a time. An ethical will differs from the traditional assets-focused will in that it communicates lessons and values rather than specific financial instructions. Formats and contents of ethical wills vary as much as people do; personal letters, miniature life histories, bullet-pointed advice and intangible bequests are all options.

Jacob and RachelThe American Association of Retired Persons' caregiving guide on ethical wills recommends that they be shared with ...

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