In the book, Parting Ways, Denise Carson takes us on a moving journey to explore the emergence of rituals that reinvent the role of family and community to celebrate the end of life in America. She examines her father’s passing in the 1980s and her mother’s remarkable end of life passage at the turn of the twenty-first century, both from cancer, to weave together a series of narratives that immerse us deeper into the intimate lives of the individuals and families changing our society’s approach to dying, death and mourning. Her father’s isolated, institutionalized last days in hospital are a stark contrast to her mother’s passing at home that opens the door for family and friends to gather, reminisce and pay tribute to her life in a ceremonial farewell called a living wake that evokes unexpected joy, intimacy and communal bonds.
Nine out 10 Americans wish to take their end of life journey in the comforts of home surrounded by family and community but few do, Carson gives us an insightful and practical guide on how families are making these last wishes come true. She traces the roots of a variety of new rituals—living funerals, life review video, oral ethical wills, vigils and home funerals—to our cultural past. Parting Ways is synthesis of inspiring voices, stories, perspectives and ideas from the dying, their families, doctors, caregivers, clergy, cultural historians and other guardians of this domain.
We encounter many new guides in the final frontier of life such as the life review guide, last wish celebration planner, death doulas and midwives, life story writers and documentary filmmakers who rewrite our last chapter to leave behind a valuable new legacy of memories to ensure we don’t walk alone and that we live on from generation to generation. Integrating the profoundly personal with the objectively historical, Parting Ways calls for an “end of life revolution” to change the way of death in America.