cover image ON OUR WAY: The Final Passage Through Life and Death

ON OUR WAY: The Final Passage Through Life and Death

Robert Kastenbaum, . . Univ. of California, $27.50 (452pp) ISBN 978-0-520-21880-2

What does it mean to die a "good" death? How does our life's journey prepare us for death? How do corpses help us understand death and its impact on the living? Kastenbaum, who has examined the psychology of death in earlier books, explores these questions and others in this sometimes pedantic and sometimes vividly interesting overview of the role of death rituals in human lives. Using interviews, case studies and sociological findings, he offers wide-ranging reflections on biological, anthropological, theological and psychological understandings of death and the ways we incorporate its finality into our lives. Surveying religious beliefs and practices from a variety of cultures, Kastenbaum concludes that dying a good death in the modern world involves personal readiness to meet one's god and participation in rituals that make one fit to die. Such preparation serves the individual's needs and desires rather than an institution's (funeral home, church, hospice, biomedical company) agenda. Kastenbaum meditates on the ways in which contemporary reflection on life and death has been affected by numerous biological and sociological factors such as increases in life span, slower passages between illness and death and new understandings of death rituals. In an unsurprising conclusion, he argues that there are as many ways of thinking about the relationship between life and death as there are people in the world. Although Kastenbaum offers some fascinating glimpses into the history of death rituals, he covers ground already well traversed by thoughtful people. (May)