Authors who write memoirs in the last stages of their life have a uniquely powerful perspective, surprisingly positive and reflective. I will never forget reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch because it contained so much optimism and insight that it profoundly affected my outlook on life. If you are looking for a similar inspiring experience, try one of the following end of life memoirs.
Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In his last lecture to his students entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” he discussed helping others achieve their dreams, overcoming obstacles and living every minute like it’s your last. This book may look small, but it packs so many years of wisdom and life lessons that every reader will come away with a new outlook on life.
Paul Kalanithi trained for ten years to become a neurosurgeon and was approaching completion when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Facing his mortality, he approached his impending death as both a patient and medical doctor while struggling to find answers to questions such as: “What makes life worth living in the face of death?” Unfortunately, Paul passed away while working on this book.
Oliver Sacks was a neurologist and author who wrote four essays in the months before his death that reflected how he wished to live his last days. Instead of focusing upon his illness, Sacks concentrated on achieving peace within oneself. He managed to convey his message in an uplifting tone that leaves the reader with a sense of tranquility and appreciation.
Will Schwalbe recounts the book related conversations he had with his mother after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While attending doctor’s appointments, chemotherapy sessions and overnight hospital trips, they discussed the books they had been reading which provided comfort to his mother during her failing health. Reading provided an outlet for them to connect and provide a sense of stability as they navigated the illness together.
Julie Yip-Williams was born blind in Vietnam then narrowly escaped death before arriving in America. She flourished as a lawyer, regained her eyesight, got married and started a family. Then at the age of 37, she was diagnosed with terminal metastatic colon cancer. This book grew from a blog she wrote where she reflected upon her extraordinary life with an unimaginable diagnosis.
Duke University divinity professor Kate Bowler was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer after having a baby at 35 years old. In her memoir she pulls the reader into her story with her hilarious candor and recounts stories of her faith, family and friendships. Her courage will inspire readers to not take life for granted.
Nina Riggs, mother of two young sons and a descendant of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was 37 years old when she learned she had terminal breast cancer. She tries to answer the question, “what makes a meaningful life with limited time?” During her hours of uncertainty, she encouraged everyone to love all their days and make every day meaningful.
Gottlieb is a psychotherapist who explores her patients’ lives including a newlywed diagnosed with terminal cancer, a woman who wants to end her life on her next birthday and a woman who wants to spend her last days working at Trader Joe’s rather than her university job. She discusses how futures are taken away and how people deal with the present when it all falls apart.
John Gunther writes about the tragedy befalling his son Johnny in this classic. The book traces Johnny’s diagnosis of a brain tumor and the journey of operations and various therapies to battle the brain cancer. Gunther discusses his son’s bravery and fight to graduate with his senior class, his passion for science and realization of his death.
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