Parting Ways: A New Book About Celebrating Life

Parting Ways is a book to help individuals, families, professionals and communities searching for new ways to prepare for and celebrate the end of life.

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Denise Carson, author and columnist, releases Parting Ways: New Rituals and Celebrations of Life’s Passing. In the book, Carson takes us on a moving journey to explore the emergence of rituals that reinvent the role of family and community to celebrate the end of life in America. She examines her father’s passing in the 1980s and her mother’s remarkable end of life passage at the turn of the twenty-first century, both from cancer, to weave together a series of narratives that immerse us deeper into the intimate lives of the individuals and families changing our society’s approach to dying, death and mourning. Her father’s isolated, institutionalized last days in hospital are a stark contrast to her mother’s passing at home that opens the door for family and friends to gather, reminisce and pay tribute to her life in a ceremonial farewell called a living wake that evokes unexpected joy, intimacy and communal bonds.

Eighty percent of Americans wish to take their end of life journey in the comforts of home surrounded by family and community but few do, Carson gives us an insightful and practical guide on how families are making these last wishes come true. She traces the roots of a variety of new rituals—living funerals, oral ethical wills, vigils and home funerals—to our cultural past.  We live in a culturally porous country where rituals are borrowed and personalized. Many of these new rituals are a contemporary twist on practices rooted in other cultures most especially the wise Jewish way of death.

Parting Ways is synthesis of inspiring voices, stories, perspectives and ideas from the dying, their families, doctors, caregivers, clergy, cultural historians and other guardians of this domain. We encounter many new guides in the final frontier of life such as the life review guide, last wish celebration planner, death doulas and midwives, life story writers and documentary filmmakers who rewrite our last chapter to leave behind a valuable new legacy of memories to ensure we don’t walk alone and that we live on from generation to generation. Integrating the profoundly personal with the objectively historical, Parting Ways calls for an “end of life revolution” to change the way of death in America.


“Carson explores, in captivating detail, the new alternatives to traditional, institutionalized dying, mourning, and memorialization. She deftly paints a vivid portrait of her own experiences and successfully ties in conceptual research on newer death rituals. This book is truly unique and timely.” —Tony Bell, Professor Emeritus at California State University, Fullerton, Department of Sociology

“Parting Ways provides a fresh and contemporary perspective on American death rituals. Carson expertly weaves her personal narrative around existing research, and in the process, she delivers an important analysis on ritual and death that is poignant and widely accessible.” —Justin Holcomb, Reformed Theological Seminary

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  1. Eileen McDargh

    Just ordered your book. This is so timely and so few of us know how to help those we love move to the signpost of life with grace and dignity. May I also recommend another book to your reader: Final Gifts.

    I look forward to reading your words!

  2. Post author

    Thanks for your support Eileen! Yes, I hope my book, Parting Ways, will be a map or at least compass like this blog in providing direction and inspiration on how to accompany those you love on the end of life journey. It’s the kind of book that will help you open conversations that could unveil the denial and alleviate the fears that block our loved ones from experiencing intimacy, grace and dignity. I’ve often heard that each person is so alive in my book! They exemplify what you call “radical resilience”.

    I’d love to know your thoughts after reading the book!

    With gratitude,

  3. Nitin Shah

    Denise, Very heartening to learn about your book. I will like to share my personal experiences of my wife, father & mothers’ s passing. Passing away in America with Indian cultural background – this may be a part of the answer for our healthcare today! Nitin.

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