Awake at the Bedside
Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End-of-Life Care
edited by Koshin Paley Ellison and Matt Weingast
Paley Ellison sat at the bedside with his beloved Grandma Mimi for the last six weeks of her life. In the sacred time before her death, while sharing memories, pizza, tears and laughter, she urged him to continue his work in helping transform end-of-life care in America. Koshin states, “She is source of everything I teach.”
This unique perspective, has led to the publication of Awake at the Bedside, which offers wisdom and counsel for those who keep watch at the bedside. Filled with riveting and heartwarming stories of doctors, patients, chaplains, family members, and caregivers, the book is a manifesto for love and compassion. It is an indispensable resource for anyone involved in hospice work, and more importantly, it is a book everyone will need at some point in their lives, when called upon to care for a loved one.
This book isn’t about dying. it’s about caring and what giving care really means. It’s about life and what life has to teach us.
In Awake at the Bedside, pioneers of palliative and end-of-life care, as well as doctors, chaplains, caregivers, and even poets, offer wisdom that will challenge, uplift, comfort—and change the way we think about death. Contributors include Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Cicely Saunders, Derek Walcott, and many more.
Awake at the Bedside offers practical insight in how we can care for people in new ways. The contributors were chosen because of their impact on the way care is given. The book includes a never-published essay by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, MD, poems by Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott, and personal essays by seminal teachers in the field, including Ram Dass and Ira Byock, MD. The book serves as a healing guide that imparts valuable lessons about relationship, grief, joy, and suffering, when sharing a sacred moment with another human being.
Equal parts instruction manual and contemplative testimony, Awake at the Bedside seeks to address essential questions: How do we think about death and dying? What are the current practices in palliative and end-of-life care, and how might they be improved? How can we give care without becoming emotionally and spiritually depleted?
This collection of stories and poetry reveals life experiences that reinforce the preciousness of time and the deep value of connection. These extraordinary teachers bring us into intimacy with both living and dying. Awake at the Bedside will powerfully remind you that to be of service is to hold hands with humanity.
The greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion. The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It is the ultimate source of success in life. Awake at the Bedside supports this development of love and compassion.
—His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care is a leader in the integration of spiritual practice into contemplative-based care, and its co-founders are beloved faculty in our Integrative Medicine Fellowship. This nourishing book, Awake at the Bedside, should be required reading for any compassionate caregiver engaged in fostering healing in themselves, clients, loved ones and society. It envisions revolutionary change in how we care for ourselves and the world
—Dr. Andrew Weil, author of Healthy Aging and Founder of the Integrative Medicine Fellowship at University of Arizona Medical School
Profoundly moving, inspiring and helpful, Awake at the Bedside is a real treasure.
—Jack Kornfield, author of A Path With Heart
The book is marvelous. A compilation of essential treasures exploring the face and feeling of utter engagement, compassion, and wisdom in turning toward death and being present with and for people who are dying. Our culture might benefit greatly from this book and its institutional implications for end of life care and for caring, period.
—Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, author of Full Catastrophe Living and founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction
Moving and informative — this is a much needed book! Put into practice, the wisdom of Awake at the Bedside could transform end-of-life care in America. And, every reader will receive support from the collective understanding shared in these pages.
—Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness
Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End-of-Life Care brings together an extraordinary group of teachers who share their wisdom and insights into the great issue of our lives: how to understand the dying process in a way that allows for grace and peace as we transition into what for most of us is the great mystery. This volume will certainly be of help for accompanying others in their journeys as well as providing a deeper understanding of our own.
—Joseph Goldstein, author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening
The New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care’s Awake at the Bedside is a much needed companion on the path for the seriously ill and those who care for them. This book and the Zen Center focuses on training people to focus their compassionate attention on the patient, to be with the patient, wherever they are, and then following the patient’s lead to bring healing and wholeness. This is the essence of palliative care and our whole health care system needs a prescription for this medicine. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
—Dr. R. Sean Morrison, Co-Director, Patty and Jay Baker National Palliative Care Center; Director, National Palliative Care Research Center; Director, Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute; Hermann Merkin Professor of Palliative Care Professor of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine; Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
I was fortunate to know Chodo and Koshin when a very dear friend was dying. Chodo sat at Lynn’s bedside, held her hand, as well as her suffering, while bringing a sense of calmness to all the chaos as it unfolded. In the midst of Manhattan, their organization, New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care offers an oasis of compassion and their community of caregivers provides a wonderful, much needed service. Their vision is to change the way we take care of our ill and dying and it lies close to my heart; my personal experience of loss has shown me there is better way and this is it. This book highlights the work of pioneers in the contemplative end of live care movement. Awake at the Bedside is a beacon in the dark night of our healthcare system today It is a must read.
—Donna Karan, fashion designer & Founder, Urban Zen Foundation
Weaving together the wisdom of ancient traditions and the experience of those in the caring professions today, Awake at the Bedside is a deeply moving
, poetic and practical guide to those caring for and the dying.
– Stephen Batchelor, author of After Buddhism
“Finally a compendium that gets us above and below and behind the clinical science which narrows and dominates our understanding of death and dying and wellness.”
—BJ Miller, Executive Director of the Zen Hospice Project
In the practice of medicine in the West and the U.S. in particular, the act of dying has been completely separated from the care of the patient yet this process, so profound, can give one the deepest of gifts… an insight into what living a life really means. As a physician and neurosurgeon, I have seen too often my colleagues pull away as a patient nears the end of their path and have seen relatives, fearful and anxious as to how to proceed. This wonderful volume gives each of us the gift of wisdom and knowledge that will not only relieve our own anxiety and fear but will allow us to embrace what is at the end of the path and allow our own awakening.
—Dr. James R. Doty, Professor of Neurosurgery, Founder & Director, The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE), Stanford University School of Medicine
Humans experience advanced illness with such a complex and changing interplay of suffering and solace, stress and resilience, that the most certain observation is that each is unique, and one never knows what is needed, or can be attained, unless there is engagement—listening, reflecting and ultimately understanding the person who is ill. As illustrated in this Awake at the Bedside: Contemplative Teachings on Palliative and End of Life Care, and in all the work of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, the necessary and very human task of connecting with another in order to understand, support and provide care is one of the most important things to be learned from the practitioners and practices of contemplative care.
—Dr. Russell K. Portenoy, Chief Medical Officer, MJHS Hospice and Palliative Care & Executive Director MJHS Institute for Innovation in Palliative Care; Editor‑in‑Chief of the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management; Co-Editor of the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine
This book isn’t about sickness or death—it’s about diving into the heart of life discovered when we truly meet another person. Providing practical support, emotional resonance, and celebration of ordinary sacredness, it is a priceless treasure.
—Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Contemplative and Religious Studies, Naropa University
I am extraordinarily grateful for what this book provides. Filled with quiet insight based on years of experience and the study and practice of dharma, Awake at the Bedside extends an intimate, wise and loving hand on behalf of those whose lives are presently coming to an end, and those who care for them. As pragmatic as it is inspiring, the editors have given us an important window into how to approach the latter part of what Zen calls “the great matter of birth and death.” It is an authentic and guiding compendium of compassionate understanding, the kind of useful, true and faithful companion we all need as the end of life comes near. As our families and communities continue to age and die, this book will serve us well.
—Eihei Peter Levitt, Founder and Guiding Teacher of the Salt Spring Zen Circle in British Columbia, poet, translator and author
This is the best book I’ve read on the end of life—not only what it means for a dying person but what it means for all of us. Reading it moved me to tears many times.
—David Loy, Zen teacher and author of The World is Made of Stories
Finally a compendium that gets us above and below and behind the clinical science, which narrows and dominates our understanding of death and dying and wellness. As a hospice physician, I’m aware that this batch of writings gets us to the more difficult and subtle work otherwise crowded out. Medications and tests and procedures can be invaluable, but they are just the start. At best they clear space, but how do we attend to that space? How do we fill it, or not? How do we make meaning? What is meaning any way? How do we relate self and other on this shared ride? Well, here we go. Let’s look inside these pages and see.
—Dr. BJ Miller, Executive Director of the Zen Hospice Project & Attending Specialist for the Symptom Management Service of the UCSF Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center
From poetry, meditation, and philosophical counsel to care-giving and care-receiving guidance, this profoundly moral book is a gift to all mortal sentient beings. The contributors’ list is a who’s who of the leaders in the end-of-life-care movement today. Awake at the Bedside is vital reading for anyone involved in the process of death – and that means everybody. Another great contribution from the astounding Zen Center for Contemplative Care people.
—Janet Gyatso, PhD, Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies, Harvard Divinity School
Awake at the Bedside is balm for our frantic, fearful, and diseased race against death. It is a quiet feast of small portions–poetry, wisdom, social insight and spiritual guidance. Bring it with you.
—Thomas R. Cole, PhD, Founder of the McGovern Center for Ethics and Humanities, University of Texas School of Medicine at Houston
A new paradigm is expressed in Awake at the Bedside—death is as important a transition as birth— the journey that needs above all else love, presence and listening. This book speaks eloquently to this new expansion of human compassion.
—Dorothy Dai En Friedman, gardener and Zen Teacher
Lucid, supportive and honest, this collection of stories, poems and practices is a perfect companion for providing loving support to those we care for, including ourselves. A rich and soulful reference book for families, caregivers and professionals.
—Michael Stone, author of Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind
Having walked through the process of witnessing the transition of a being I love, I am so grateful that Awake at the Bedside has finally arrived. This is an important book. An insightful and inspirational guide for all us as we move into the inevitability, the necessity, the privilege, of holding space for those we love as they make their journey back home. Palliative care is such a complex and emotional experience, both for the giver and the receiver of that care. How to do it consciously? How to do it with honor, acceptance, and surrender? There were so many moments I needed clarity, support, best practices and affirmation. I am grateful that Awake at the Bedside is now available. It provides the compassionate guidance so as to honor death with the same grace we do life.
—Seane Corn, yoga teacher, activist and Co-Founder, Off the Mat, Into the World