Marilyn Chandler McEntyre writes and teaches in California. She is professor of medical humanities at UC Berkeley, and former professor of English at Westmont College. She has written three books of poetry on the art of Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh; we reviewed the last one, The Color of Light.

Given the fact that many of us are going to be living longer and dying more slowly, it is imperative that we have a clearer sense of the challenges, uncertainties, and surprises of the final lap in the journey of our lives. As a longtime hospice volunteer, McEntyre is familiar with the variety of choices which must be made as we come face-to-face with our mortality and the mortality of others. Writing in the first person, the author speaks from the heart and is so effective that we assume that she is the one dying.

In a series of 52 short passages and prayers, McEntyre covers such important things as losing control, privacy, pain, clinical encounters, boredom, other people's fear, growing as I go, ceremony, listening, and much more. People who are dying often speak of "the gift of tears," and the author presents her take on their importance:

"Tears release me into honest sorrow. They release me from the strenuous business of finding words. They release me into a childlike place where I need to be held and can find comfort in embrace -- in the arms of others and in the arms of God. Tears release me from the treadmill of anxious thoughts, and even from fear. They release me from the strain of holding them back."