Final Gifts (Callanan and Kelley)

Book #7, read August 2018

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying (Callanan & Kelley)

I chose to read “Final Gifts” because I’d never seen a person die before, or even really spent time around anyone near death. The glowing Amazon reviews ( 5 stars, with over 900) didn’t hurt. It is the work of two hospice nurses. They matter-of-factly provide many anecdotes of a diverse lot of deaths, from which we can learn about the “final gifts” dying people tend to offer by way of their speech and behavior.

“Nearing death awareness” is the sixth sense dying people develop regarding what is happening to them, and it may manifest itself in several ways. Dying people may have an urge to communicate to others what they’re experiencing, though they may describe it in metaphors that can easily go uninterpreted. Talk of change and travel are not uncommon, for instance.

Dying people sometimes report feeling not alone, perhaps because they’re in the presence of supernatural entities or the previously deceased. They sometimes report what they see up ahead, where they’re “going.” Dying people sometimes even predict when they die, or even seem to exert some level of control over when they finish dying (waiting until a holiday has come or gone, waiting until someone’s present or absent).

These stories of ordinary people’s remarkable deaths certainly leave an impact. They’re educational too, because they illustrate how to help the dying — it may require more listening than speaking, for one. And although palliative medication is certainly often in order, families may be quick to blame medication (or lack of medication) for “delirium” instead of accepting metaphorical final gifts for what they are.

However, while I don’t doubt the truthfulness of Callanan & Kelley’s stories, I leave the book with no real grasp of how frequently deaths like this occur. Certainly some people die too quickly to leave any final gifts, but I doubt they’re completely universal even among medium-to-slow deaths.

I’m glad to become receptive to possible communications of loved ones nearing death in the future, thanks to Final Gifts. But I’m sorry that readers like me can, in the process, become primed for gifts that may never materialize. Sometimes the patient will die before you get there, sometimes they’ll be genuinely delirious or comatose. Sometimes the only gift on offer will be the relief of death itself.