Final Conversations:
Helping the Living and the Dying Talk to Each Other

by Maureen P. Keeley, Ph.D. and Julie M. Yingling, Ph.D.

VanderWyk and Burnham, 2007. ISBN 978-1889242309.
Reviewed by Susan Andrus
Posted on 01/08/2008

Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Faith/Spirituality/Inspiration; Nonfiction: Relationships

When I picked up this book in the library, I thought it had to do with communicating with the departed, but I soon realized that this book focused on the reality of having a final conversation with the dying. After reading it, I found my own conversations changed as a result. Each chapter gently leads the reader to new discoveries about herself and the universality of dying that transcends culture, religious beliefs, and the degree of emotional health found in families and friendships.

Authors Maureen P. Keeley, Ph.D., and Julie M. Yingling, Ph.D., both experienced the death of loved ones and related the final conversations that eased them through the pain of these separations. Through their own experience and interviews, they investigated the phenomenon of final conversations and produced this encouraging book filled with stories by many people. It will help others through this difficult transition and provide guidance on how we can facilitate these dialogues with our dying friends and relatives.

Keeley and Yingling acknowledge that our experiences with death and dying have changed in the last century since medical advances and specialized care means that most people will die in the hospital rather than at home. This prevents us from learning about death and dying in a natural setting as we grow up. We have lost the learning experiences that could have taught us how to talk to loved ones in the final months or hours. Final Conversations: Helping the Living and the Dying Talk to Each Other provides us with the examples we need to challenge our fears and develop the courage to face the dying with love, compassion, and even forgiveness.

Keeley and Yingling, instructors in communication for over forty-five combined years, interviewed scores of people to collect the stories of their final conversations. Mothers, children, spouses, grandchildren, and friends of the dying contributed their stories of their own personal transformation through final conversations in an effort to help others discover ways to communicate that lead to peace, reconciliation, and love.

My father died when I was nineteen and away at college. This traumatic event led to a lasting depression that I struggled with for years. Just reading this book enabled me to remember the time a month before he died when my dad came to visit me during parents' weekend and took me soaring in a glider. I realized as I read this book that we had a nonverbal final conversation that I thought I had missed. At the end of that perfect day, my dad, who was not a demonstrative person, pulled up in front of my dorm and stopped the car. He looked straight ahead, pipe in his mouth, waiting for me to get out of the car. I looked at him, took the pipe out of his mouth and kissed him goodbye. Now I understand that this was our final conversation. His gift to me was the time we spent together. My gift to him was the kiss.

Presently, my eighty-seven year old mother is vigorous and active, but I realize that every time I see her, it may be the last. Often I struggle with knowing what to say to her or how to react to her sometimes prickly criticism of me. Yesterday, after reading Final Conversations, I went to visit her and reminded myself to "Pay attention!" We had a lovely time together visiting, reminiscing, and enjoying each other's company.

Whether you are struggling with a loved one's impending death or losses that have occurred in the past, this gentle book will guide you through the experience with suggestions on how to create an opportunity to have a conversation, overcome angry feelings from the past, or simply embrace the dying and help them cross to the other side.

Maureen P. Keeley, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Texas State University and has taught at the college level for twenty years. Her research and writing explore the power and role of communication in close relationships in the misdt of health crises. She lives near Austin, TX.

Julie M. Yingling, Ph.D., is a professor emerita at Humboldt State University. During her twenty-five year academic career, she taught extensively and specialized in communication development in children and across the lifespan. She lives near San Jose, CA.

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