Clasped Hands, Comfort, Hands, People




10:00am - 11:30am


4/16, 4/23, 4/30, 5/7, 5/14 & 5/21

Six Sessions

This course will be offered online via the free, easy-to-use Zoom program.

Death—it’s normal, it’s natural. It will happen to us, it will happen to our loved ones. Yet why do we not know more about it? In this moderated discussion course led by Elizabeth Dillman, we will discuss a wide variety of subjects, including the process of dying, choices and options, differing cultural and spiritual beliefs, legal and ethical issues, and more. 

Special guests will join us at some class sessions to share their knowledge and experience. Bring your questions. It’s time to increase our knowledge and mitigate our fear around death.

Elizabeth Dillman is a dedicated lifelong learner. This is the second time she has offered this course for OLLI. She currently runs a business called The Berkshire Hiker and has also led hiking classes for OLLI.

Recommended Books and Internet Sources


Knocking On Heaven’s Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler

From Amazon: “In this visionary memoir, based on a groundbreaking New York Times Magazine story, award-winning journalist Katy Butler ponders her parents’ desires for “Good Deaths” and the forces within medicine that stood in the way.”

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

From his website: “In his bestselling books, Atul Gawande, a practicing surgeon, has fearlessly revealed the struggles of his profession. Now he examines its ultimate limitations and failures – in his own practices as well as others’ – as life draws to a close. And he discovers how we can do better. He follows a hospice nurse on her rounds, a geriatrician in his clinic, and reformers turning nursing homes upside down. He finds people who show us how to have the hard conversations and how to ensure we never sacrifice what people really care about.

Riveting, honest, and humane, Being Mortal shows that the ultimate goal is not a good death but a good life – all the way to the very end.”

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematoryby Caitlin Doughty

From her website: “Caitlin Doughty [born 1984] is a mortician, activist, and funeral industry rabble-rouser. In 2011 she founded the death acceptance collective The Order of the Good Death, which has spawned the death positive movement. Her books Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and From Here to Eternity were both New York Times bestsellers. She lives in Los Angeles, where she runs her funeral home.” She also has podcasts & YouTube videos.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson 

As discussed in last week’s class. From Amazon: “A charming, practical, and unsentimental approach to putting a home in order while reflecting on the tiny joys that make up a long life.”

Internet Sources:

Swedish Death Cleaning videos on YouTube

Check out one or more of the many, many YouTube videos. Go to and type Swedish Death Cleaning in the search box.

One 12-minute video is titled Decluttering with Swedish Death Cleaning.

The Conversation Project

The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. It began 2010, when Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ellen Goodman and a group of colleagues and concerned media, clergy, and medical professionals gathered to share stories of “good deaths” and “hard deaths” within their own circle of loved ones.

The website has starter kits for “the conversation,” including: Conversation Starter Kit; Choosing/Being a Health Care Proxy; How to Talk to Your Doctor. All are free.

Compassion and Choices

An organization that advocates for Death with Dignity, also called Medical Aid in Dying. The website is loaded with information on end-of-life issues. In Massachusetts we currently have a bill in the House awaiting a vote to allow physician-assisted suicide.

Thursday 4/30’s course will feature special guest Deborah Alecson, writer, professor and thanatologist. She has written many columns for the Berkshire Eagle. Her topic is “Can we come to terms with our mortality when living in a death-phobic and death-denying culture such as ours.” She may make adjustments to that based on the ever-changing news of the day.

Additional Books and Internet Sources:


We Are So Lightly Here, by Deborah Golden Alecson (Author), Lucille Marchand (Foreword)

From Amazon: "Here is the true story of how one ordinary man found the courage to transition from life with terminal cancer to death as a result of, paradoxically, his affirmation of life. Deborah Golden Alecson poses new ways to understand "hope.”

Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul by Stephen Jenkinson  

From Amazon: "Stephen Jenkinson places death at the center of the page and asks us to behold it in all its painful beauty. Die Wise teaches the skills of dying, skills that have to be learned in the course of living deeply and well. Die Wise is for those who will fail to live forever.”

Final Exit by Derek Humphrey

From Amazon: 'Final Exit' outlines the legal complications connected with dying, death, hastened death, euthanasia laws, suicide, Living Wills and Advance Directives.” …[It] is the most famous D.I.Y. textbook on voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide.

This revised third edition of 'Final Exit' (2010 revision) is much changed from the earlier editions, which date from 1991 when it was, the 'Number One' bestseller on the New York Times nonfiction list.”


The Final Exit Network

Their vision: "That any competent person unbearably suffering an intractable medical condition has the option to die legally and peacefully.”

Exit International

Their Vision: "That every adult of sound mind has the right to implement plans for the end of their life so that their death is reliable, peaceful and at a time of their choosing."

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OLLI: the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Berkshire Community College
Partners in education with Williams College, Bard College at Simon's Rock and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

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