Lessons for the Living from the Bedside of the Dying

Also available at Kindle. Signed copies available directly from the author.

"In these chronicles of a midwife to the dying, Judith Redwing Keyssar speaks eloquently and from her heart about her extensive experience in the field of palliative care––providing nursing expertise along with emotional and spiritual guidance and support for people in hospitals, residential facilities, and in their own homes.

Keyssar encourages us to examine our personal relationships to impermanence and to consider the changes needed in our healthcare system to better serve us all at the end of life.

When Plato was asked to sum up his life’s work, he simply stated, “Practice dying.” Last Acts of Kindness allows a glimpse into this practice through the stories of those who have lived and died among us.

LAST ACTS OF KINDNESS was awarded a 2011 BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD in the category of Hospice and Palliative Care from the AMERICAN JOURNAL OF NURSING

Let us change the face of dying in our culture from one of fear and anxiety to one of acceptance and compassion. Inevitable as death is for all beings, let us work to create experiences that are positive, potent, and transformational. —from preface

Last Acts of Kindness is intended for:

  • All healthcare professionals
  • Students of medicine, nursing, social work, chaplaincy, especially those who anticipate working in palliative and end of life care
  • ANYONE who wishes to learn and understand more about the complex territory of death and dying in America

As you read the stories in this book, you will be encouraged to consider your own thoughts and beliefs about what it truly means to live fully, knowing you will die someday. You are also asked to think about a variety of questions, including:

  • How would your feelings change if you were the doctor, nurse, social worker, chaplain, family member, or patient?
  • What would you do differently?
  • Which person in the story do you feel the most affinity for or aversion to? How would you communicate with that person?


From Last Acts of Kindness: Rites of Passage

One day at an appointment with her palliative care doctor, she said, “It’s not like the idea of dying isn’t in the back of my mind all the time. I just don’t want to talk about it all the time.”
–Shelli Plotkin
June 22, 1982 – January 26, 2009
Photo courtesy of Caren and Ron Plotkin



Praise for Last Acts of Kindness

These stories carry a profound message about the core of the healing process – it’s about the power of relationships and human connections. Harvard Professor, Dr Francis Peabody, said it best nearly a hundred years ago when he said, “The secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient".

—Dr. Diane Meier, Director, 
Center to Advance Palliative Care

Illustrated with the compelling and poignant stories of patients facing the end of life in different settings, Redwing Keyssar’s book offers clinicians a chance to quietly and honestly consider the deep meanings of what we do. Reading this we will learn how to be more present and more helpful to those we serve. But in some ways, the finest gifts are reserved for us personally. In reading these stories, we will grow in appreciation of the sacred privileges of our work and the wonder and connection of our own lives.

—Dr.Michael Rabow, 
Director, Symptom Management Service, 
UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, 
University of California, San Francisco

The Last Acts of Kindness… is indeed a wonderful message to the living woven together in a beautiful quilt from the bedsides of the dying. This collection of life stories asks the reader to think deeply about death as a spiritual experience rather than a medical failure . It is written from the vision of an expert midwife to the dying, Redwing Keyssar and is rich in clinical wisdom.

—Betty Ferrell PhD, MA, FAAN, FPCN
, Research Scientist and Professor, 
City of Hope National Medical Center
, Principal Investigator, 
End of Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC)

This book reiterates how the dying should be treated. It demonstrates that there is nothing to fear from those who are dying, and many lessons to be learned…There is nothing to fear. For in reading our stories, we will all learn. This is a healthy part of the grieving process.  read more

—Jenn Jilks, Cottage Country Reflections Blog

Utilizing the power of story, Redwing uses her gifts to teach and remind us of the many lessons inherent in the journey of dying and death. Reading as both nurse and person, I am gently guided in, and reminded of, the essential lessons Redwing has captured in her lovingly told stories. I finish Redwing’s path of story filled with hope, gratitude, comfort, and possibility.

—Betty J. Carmack, R.N., Ed.D.
, Professor Emerita, 
University of San Francisco
, School of Nursing

I’ve bought this book to give it to colleagues, and folks I hope will be inspired to become colleagues. Last Acts of Kindness is an important part of my toolkit for explaining hospice and palliative medicine to the lay community. Every hospice volunteer should read it. All hospice librarians need to have it in their collection.

—Patrick Clary, MD, Director, 
New Hampshire Palliative Care Service

The gift of your book providing a sense of clarity, perhaps a sense of direction, and most definitely comfort…I felt so alone in the process of my father’s illness, yet, through your book, with concrete stories, I understood that we are all connected—we all go through this and there are infinite possibilities…

—Linda W.
Architect, New Mexico