Nursing Book Club

Advice for Future Corpses: A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying by Sallie Tisdale

Taking direct aim at a taboo topic

In many ways, Advice for Future Corpses is the most important book I’ve read in a very long time. Almost poetic, this book is too valuable to ignore.

Author Sallie Tisdale is an Oregon-based nurse practitioner who has worked in hospice and oncology. She has had a life-long familiarity with death. Her interest began in childhood with the loss of pets and extended to her adult years with the loss of people close to her (family members, teachers and friends).

A Zen Buddhist, she faces mortality with a clear-eyed practicality where most of us look away or pretend that examining it too closely may cause Death to look for us.

Tisdale’s examination of death and end of life practices includes an examination of the physiological and psychological events of fatal illness as well as the emotional journey of family members. She explains the starts and stops and what the accompanying emotions may be, as well as the tougher questions of who can help, who cannot and what happens to families when one member has challenging medical needs and not everyone is equally able to be there.

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Throughout, we learn about the business of funerals, mourning and grief. Tisdale recounts fables of consolation from other cultures that may help us understand the way feelings shift and transform over time. She helps us better grasp death and in so doing begin to better understand ourselves.

Confronting Our Own Morality

Death is messy, and her subtext is that it’s better to be prepared. We all acknowledge it in our own ways, but most of us have not yet traveled this road — even nurses who regularly face loss on the job.

Nursing Education

As you are likely to become a caregiver in your own family, you may be expected to already know much of what this book contains, whether or not it falls into your particular specialty. I sure didn’t, and while reading it, I felt a sense of weightlessness and of time stopping.

To be sure, not everyone is ready for this book, but hopefully, when they are, someone will have it handy for them. I’m grateful to Tisdale for setting it out in such a beautiful, uncomplicated manner. Death doesn’t have to be threatening, and she helps us see that.

Advice for Future Corpses (and Those who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying by Sallie Tisdale (Touchstone, 2018)

Christine Contillo, RN, BSN, PHN, is a public health nurse with more than 40 years of experience, ranging from infants to geriatrics. She enjoys volunteering for medical missions.

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