No one really wants to think about it, until they must. Yet the success of recent bestsellers such as Being Mortal and When Breath Becomes Air points to a cultural moment for facing our own mortality and the deaths of our loved ones—perennial topics in religion and spirituality. This fall and 2017 bring more titles in a genre that might be called end-of-life books, about confronting a terminal illness, grieving the loss of a loved one, and glimpsing the hereafter through a near-death experience (NDE).

Is There Life After Life?

Books such as 90 Minutes in Heaven (2004), Heaven Is for Real (2010), and Proof of Heaven (2012)—memoirs by those who believe they have died, seen what heaven is like, and returned to the land of the living—have sold millions of copies and stayed on bestseller lists for weeks, months, even years. Interest in the topic may have cooled a bit, but some publishers hope there is still reader fascination with what might lie beyond.

In March 2017, WaterBrook will release Life After Heaven: How My Time in Heaven Can Transform Your Life on Earth by Steven R. Musick and Paul J. Pastor. While serving in the U.S. Navy, Musick writes that he died of a reaction to a vaccine, met Jesus in heaven, and returned to life. Now a financial planner, Musick travels the country telling others what he saw.

Though he did not have an NDE, Presbyterian minister Peter Deison writes in Visits from Heaven: One Man’s Eye-Opening Encounter with Death, Grief, and Comfort from the Other Side (W, Nov.) that after losing his wife to suicide, he was consoled by dreams and visions that convinced him individual humans continue to exist beyond death.

Training a wide-angle lens on such beliefs is Mark Mirabello, a professor of history at Shawnee State University in Ohio. In A Traveler’s Guide to the Afterlife: Traditions and Beliefs on Death, Dying, and What Lies Beyond (Inner Traditions, Oct.), he examines the teachings and traditions surrounding death and the afterlife in cultures around the world and throughout history. Mirabello also is the author of the Pulitzer-nominated novella The Cannibal Within.

Jeffrey Long, author (with Paul Perry) of Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences (2011), expands on the topic in God and the Afterlife: The Groundbreaking New Evidence for God and Near-Death Experience (HarperOne, Aug.). In his work at the Near Death Experience Research Foundation, Long has collected more than 3,000 accounts of NDEs that have remarkable similarities. He believes those accounts make a case for life after death and offer evidence of the existence and nature of God.

For Those Who Grieve

The prospect of a happy next life can be comforting, but in A Buddhist Grief Observed (Wisdom, Aug.), Guy Newland finds a different solution when he calls upon his Buddhist beliefs after the death of his wife. “Traditional Buddhist cultures around the world believe there is no eternal, permanent self or soul, that life is a stream or continuum that flows,” Newland says. “Buddhism teaches that the basic condition of life is anguish and pain, so we don’t try to avoid or deny it by seeking consolation in religion. We come to the moment of death knowing we don’t know what comes next, but feeling at one with all of humanity.” Still, Newland notes the bereaved must grapple with loss in the here and now.

The Way of Letting Go: One Woman’s Walk Towards Forgiveness by Wilma Derksen, foreword by Malcolm Gladwell (Zondervan, Feb. 2017), recounts Derksen’s struggle to forgive her daughter’s killer—a key step in her grieving process. She describes 15 misconceptions about grief she had to overcome and tries to help readers do the same. Derksen was featured in Gladwell’s David & Goliath.

Neuropsychologist Michelle Bengtson seeks meaning through both faith and neuroscience in Hope Prevails: A Doctor’s Personal Journey Through Depression, coming from Revell in August. She examines grief and anxiety through the lens of both her discipline and her own experience of depression, prompting readers to consider the role of brain chemistry in their emotions, while showing how those emotions can be overcome by relying on God.

There also are practical resources for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one. Rabbi Simeon Schreiber, author of From Mourning to Morning: A Comprehensive Guide to Mourning, Grieving, and Bereavement (Urim, Nov.), says that “the ritual of the shivah call is important for the mourners because it gives them the opportunity to open up and express their innermost feelings about the deceased.” He adds, “Shivah helps with the grieving process because it provides a cathartic release of emotions that must be expressed rather than repressed.”

When Is Buddy Coming Home? Helping Children Understand the Death of a Pet by Gary Kurz (Citadel, May 2017) aims to help parents explain death to children. Other guides to navigating the grieving process include Daily Reflections in Times of Loss: Praying Every Day for Healing and Peace by Beryl and Steve Schewe (Twenty-Third, Nov.), Forever in My Heart: A Grief Journal by Tanya Carroll Richardson (Ulysses, Nov.), and 30 Days Toward Healing Your Grief: A Workbook for Healing by Danielle DeBois Morris and Kristen N. Alday (Church, Mar. 2017).

When Illness Strikes

Other books describe how authors faced their own deaths. In Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, Mar. 2017), Russ Ramsey writes, “When my doctor told me I was dying, I came alive.” He had contracted a bacterial infection that destroyed a heart valve, resulting in heart failure and emergency open-heart surgery. As he faced the possibility he could be dying, Ramsey wrestled with fear, anger, depression, and loss, but found succor in his Christian faith and managed to survive, transformed by his suffering.

In On My Way Home: A Hospice Nurse’s Journey with Terminal Cancer (Ave Maria, Apr. 2017), Joyce Hutchison—who was Iowa’s first hospice nurse and an expert on care of the dying—writes that she was stunned when diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer: “I have worked in oncology, hospice, and palliative care for 35 years. It makes no sense for me to have cancer—especially terminal cancer.” Sustained and inspired by her faith, Hutchinson decided to write the book (with Joyce Rupp) “to assist those in... the most difficult stage of life”; she died in 2016.

Tyndale House’s entry in this genre is Peace in the Face of Cancer (Apr. 2017) by Lynn Eib, who through her own illness became an advocate for cancer patients. Eib tells her story, as well as those of other sufferers around the world, encouraging cancer patients and their loved ones to believe a good life is possible even after a life-threatening diagnosis, and to find peace through their faith.

Taking Good Care

There also are books for and by those who care for the dying. Children’s book author and artist Marissa Moss’s Last Things: A Graphic Memoir of ALS (Conari, May) not only tells but shows how she dealt with her husband’s devastating illness while caring for three young sons. Her husband, Harvey, died in 2002. A lauded author of children’s and YA books, Moss has sold more than five million copies of Amelia’s Notebook series.

The dying can offer insights into the afterlife, Lisa Smartt writes in Words at the Threshold: Investigating What We Say When We’re Nearing Death (New World Library, Mar. 2017). When her skeptic father was dying, he spoke of angels and of peering into a supernatural realm. That led Smartt to cofound the Final Words Project with pioneering NDE researcher Raymond Moody (Life After Life), collecting other accounts of the words of the dying to form this book.

The words of loved ones and caregivers to those with a devastating illness matter enormously—even when we think they can’t hear us, writes Gary Chapman, author of the perennial bestseller The 5 Love Languages. Chapman applies his insights about how to communicate love in different ways in Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade: The 5 Love Languages and the Alzheimer’s Journey by Chapman and Ed Shaw, with Debbie Barr (Moody, Oct. 2017).

Doulas help women prepare to give birth, and now there are death doulas to guide the dying and their families physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Henry Fersko-Weiss, a nurse and licensed clinical social worker, pioneered the concept and now heads the End-of-Life Doula Program. In Caring for the Dying: The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death (Conari, Mar. 2017), Fersko-Weiss writes, “A new approach to dying is emerging, one that encourages a dying person and their loved ones to face their fear, break through denial, and engage in an honest, open exploration of death and dying.”