Book Review: The Beauty of What Remains

by Steve LederAVERY
reviewed by Damon Orion

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The Beauty of What Remains: How Our Greatest Fear Becomes Our Greatest Gift
By Steve Leder

ON THE EVE OF Yom Kippur 2017, Los Angeles-based rabbi Steve Leder delivered what would become his best-loved sermon: a distillation of the things he has learned about death from sitting with hundreds of dying people. Exactly one year after Leder gave that sermon, the burial of his father caused him to rethink his perspective on death and dying. “This book is my apology—a setting the record straight for the ways in which that most popular sermon was shy of the deepest truth,” he offers in the prologue to his fourth book. “I want people to know the deepest truth about what death teaches us of life.”

Leder, named one of America’s 10 most influential rabbis by Newsweek magazine, addresses the reader in the same direct, unpatronizing tone that he advises us to take with those who are dying. He warns us not to expect the imminent death of a loved one to magically fix a dysfunctional relationship, and he urges us not to take on new roles in the presence of a dying person. “If you are a hugger, hug,” he writes. “If you are a feeder, feed. If you are a joker, joke. If you are a gossip, dish away. Be with someone in death as you were in life.”

As well as providing insight on how to hold space for a dying person, The Beauty of What Remains guides us through the nuances of preparing a will, eulogizing, dealing with grief, and teaching children about death. Leder also tackles the complex issue of whether it is right or wrong to hasten the death of someone who is suffering badly. Interspersed throughout are nuggets of wisdom, such as the late musician Warren Zevon’s summary of what his impending death had taught him: “I know how much you’re supposed to enjoy every sandwich.”

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