book cover

Life Before Death:

Stories of Love, Laughter & Loss in Palliative Care

written by: Barbara Freiheit

How do people under the shadow of impending death live their lives from day-to-day? How do families and friends cope when their loved ones are dying? Working as a palliative care volunteer for over twenty years has afforded Barbara Freiheit the opportunity to learn and understand how people facing death continue to be engaged with their world right to the end.

Life Before Death: Stories of Love, Laughter and Loss in Palliative Care is a collection of stories that delves into diverse subjects such as family dynamics, human relations, humor, euthanasia, funerals, and the afterlife. It is not a ‘how-to’ book but rather an intimate exploration of the human condition common to all of us. When faced with the end of life, there is still love, acceptance and hope.

Life Before Death: Stories of Love, Laughter and Loss in Palliative Care is a thoughtful compendium of over two decades of experience dealing with death and dying.

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Also available in store at Paragraph Bookstore, Montreal, Canada.

“I remain in awe of the human spirit. When faced with the
end of life, there is still love, acceptance and the hope that reigns eternal. ”

- Barbara Freiheit, Life Before Death: Stories of Love, Laughter and Loss in Palliative Care

Several years ago, I was asked to speak to a group of gerontology students, about my work in palliative care. I prepared a lecture, consisting mostly of stories about the patients and families I had encountered, and how they had faced their final days. As I was speaking, I noticed some students leaving the room, and, because it was one of my first speaking engagements and I was lacking confidence, I assumed that they had grown bored with my anecdotes. In fact, I learned later that my stories had actually moved these young students to tears. They had gone out in the hallway to cry. It was an emotional moment for me as well. I realized then that I wanted to share my experiences with others and thought about writing a book for a larger audience.

I began working in a Palliative Care Unit (PCU) over 22 years ago, as a young woman whose children were growing older. I felt a need to nurture once more. Despite my initial trepidation in caring for the dying, I found that I was comfortable in a hospital setting and, after a short time was able to be at ease with patients and their families. I got to know many wonderful people and saw how they faced death, a great many with humor, acceptance and grace.

As a member of the baby boomers, we are now reaching an age where we are facing the need to deal with aging parents and relatives. Knowing of my work in the PCU, many of my friends have asked what I experienced when working with the sick and dying. They want to know what is appropriate, what should they say and do when someone is very ill and close to death. They also find it difficult to attend funerals, visitations and shivas. What is the right thing to say to those who are bereaved and grieving?

Through the stories in this book, I hope to provide some insights as to what transpires in end-of-life situations and how patients and their families deal with pending death. My experiences in palliative care allowed me to observe how at the end of life patients find ways to enjoy living and are not constantly discussing death. They maintain an interest in the people and things around them and enjoy ‘normal’ conversations and activities.

With a better understanding of what ensues at the end of life, fears will be somewhat allayed and a more comfortable way may be found to assist those who are sick and dying, as well as those who are grieving.

“Barbara Freiheit writes with humour about a serious subject. Her stories about volunteering in a
hospice are filled with warmth and sensitivity… with laughter as well as sadness.
An uplifting book and a must read for everyone.”

- Kappy Flanders, Co-Chair, Council on Palliative Care,
McGill Minis

“Barbara Freiheit’s boldly honest and affectionately humorous chronicle of her 22 years of volunteering …
is as educational as it is entertaining. With her intuitive, empathic understanding, she bears witness
to what is arguably the most critical period in her patients’ lives.”

- Dr. Annette Granich, MD, FRCP
Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry
McGill University Health Centre