This collection of readings on death by the editor of the journal "First Things" is not a self-help book about grieving: it offers readers a chance "simply to be present to death." Neuhaus relates the powerful tale of his own fight against advanced colon cancer seven years ago. After two emergency surgeries, he was expected to die, and remembers a moment of "an utterly lucid state of awareness" when two friendly messengers told him simply that "everything is ready now," as though it were his decision to die or to live. He lived, and now professes a radically different perspective on death.

Such a transformation is evident in the pieces that make up this collection. The first section, "Twelve Classic Visions" on dying, including a touching (and quintessentially Victorian) scene from Dickens on the death of a child, and a horrifying Flannery O'Connor story about the roadside murder of an innocent family. Dylan Thomas rings true with "A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, or a Child in London."

Part II, "When We Die," explores our own future deaths more pointedly. Famous scenes from Tolstoy's "Death of Ivan Ilyich" complement essays on suicide, near-death experiences, and mercy killing. The final section, "When Others Die," contains the usual suspects (C.S. Lewis's "A Grief Observed") as well as some unexpected offerings, like Milton Himmelfarb's description of saying kaddish for his deceased father.

This anthology is a stunning and sobering reminder of mortality.

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