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Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  2,951 ratings  ·  503 reviews
Knocking on Heaven's Door is a visionary map through the labyrinth of a broken and morally adrift medical system. It will inspire the necessary and difficult conversations we all need to have with loved ones as it illuminates a path to a better way of death.

Like so many of us, award-winning writer Katy Butler always assumed her aging parents would experience healthy, activ
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published September 10th 2013 by Scribner (first published January 1st 2013)
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Petra positivity in an adverse situation is v hard
A summary of this book would say that the author felt that a natural death should be accepted. Less hospitalisation, less CPR, less prolonging of life where even though there was still quality it wasn't how it had been and would deteriorate and less drugs with consequently more pain and inconvenience although obviously for a shorter time. That pain was concommitant with the ending of life by disease and to some extent should be accepted.

I'm reading Counting Backwards: A Doctor's Notes on Anesthe
Karen R
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Based on her award winning New York Times Magazine article ‘What Broke My Father’s Heart’ (which still can be found via online search), Katy Butler has written a powerful medical memoir. I have read the pre-release e-version and wish the book could be released sooner than September as I would run out and buy copies to send to my siblings as we are currently facing some medical decisions to be made on behalf of our elderly parents who have major medical problems.

The author concentrates on the fi
Jan Rice
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is combination memoir, investigative journalism, and self-help.

Its main thrust is permission to stand down.

The author's father had already had a stroke and begun his final decline when he got a pacemaker so as to be able to withstand a hernia operation. Then the pacemaker kept him going while he became progressively more demented and dependent, and while caring for him drained her mother and arguably shortened her life. The author explores the economic incentives and legal and emotional is
I spent 3+ years a decade and a half ago taking care of my dying mother. I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book--it was a difficult time that I'm generally happy to keep in the closet. However, I took the plunge into Katy Butler's book, and found out that what I felt and went through was not unique and it was wonderful to hear echoes of what I experienced in her story. She is very open with her feelings, and her frustrations, with her family, the tremendously mysterious and maddening medical a ...more
Monica Wesolowska
Sep 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
If you have parents, you need to read this book. Part memoir, part investigative journalism, Knocking On Heaven's Door by Katy Butler is a gorgeous and essential book. In brief, Butler writes about caring for our parents as they age. The truth is that, as modern medicine enables people to live longer and longer, often with poorer and poorer quality of life, the disproportionate burden of caretaking falls on daughters. This is caretaking for those who have fallen through the cracks, neither so il ...more
Oct 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Here is what I think: you should go out right now and pick up a copy of this book.

Go on, I'll wait.

The library, the bookstore, download it from Barnes and Noble or Amazon. Whatever.

I am totally serious.

Fine. Next time you are out and about. Honestly, I found this book to be well-written, well (and quite thoroughly) researched (and footnoted), and unvarnished. Unflinchingly, Butler discusses her parents' declining health and ultimate demise, and dares to search out answers for questions both duri
Patricia Ziegler
May 30, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Though this book deals with tough issues it is an absolute pleasure to read. This riveting story of the author’s loving journey with her parents through the labyrinth of modern medicine is one of the most courageous and beautifully written books I’ve read in any genre. Butler’s honesty, humility, intelligence and compassion grabbed my heart from page one. Her journalistic skills coupled with her talent as a writer combine to open our eyes and minds to choices we may not know we have until it is ...more
Angel Suhrstedt
Sep 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone taking care of a loved one
Almost six months ago today I said goodbye to my 87-year-old grandfather after what had been a few years of amazingly painful decline in his quality of life. Katy Butler discusses the decline and dying process of her father in this book, and provided some truly eye-opening information on what we as children/grandchildren/medical community/insurance are doing in an effort to keep our loved ones alive, even though the life they are left with is not much life at all.

Making decisions about end-of-li
Dec 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Having worked in emergency medicine I was interested in learning more about a layman's view of end of life medical care. Family members can have a difficult time letting go. I have been called to homes where the patient was on hospice care and yet a family member panicked and called 911 anyway. EMS has no choice but to respond. I think that the most important point that the author makes is that the family needs to educate itself in order to make the most informed decisions in the best interest o ...more
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
I feel this book's reputation is misleading. It isn't, in the main, how to help someone you love have a good death. It is mostly a memoir of the author's difficult years with her dying parents. The part that is common sense helpful doesn't come until the very end. I'd like to see that section offered as a separate guide. I wearied of the author's angst and conflicts, mostly with her mother. The parts about the costs of the current medical system aren't exactly new, at least not anymore. Somewhat ...more
May 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dying
This "investigative memoir" delves into the experiences of a middle-aged daughter navigating our Kafkaesque healthcare system and her own despair, anger, and ambivalence during her father's six-year decline following a devastating stroke. The central message of the book is that too many of us default ourselves and our loved ones into a medicalized labyrinth of tests, procedures, and futile measures that drain them and us of funds and dignity as we die. Most tragically, we routinely miss the oppo ...more
Saleh MoonWalker
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Onvan : Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death - Nevisande : Katy Butler - ISBN : 1451641974 - ISBN13 : 9781451641974 - Dar 336 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2013 ...more
Ghost of the Library
I am sure some of you will think or say - what a weird reading choice for christmas!?...believe it or not, i got so engrossed in the book i only thought about it once it finished.

When is it time to say goodbye (to a loved one who is dying in front of your eyes)?
When the pain becomes too much, when there is nothing to be done, when they say its ok for you to let them go? now isnt that a very tricky question to answer.....

No matter how much you plan it, no matter the preparations you may or may no
Feb 06, 2016 rated it did not like it
I am adding this later after I bought Eldercare for Dummies which is written in the usual Dummies style - that is, sensible and useful. It is full of hints and tips and give the fulls details of various governmental and NGO places which can help. It doesn't waste time as Butler's book does, patting itself on the back but lays out what carers need to know in a concise fashion. This is the one to get if you love your elder person enough to want him or her to be safe, well-cared for and comfortable ...more
Paul Pessolano
Aug 14, 2013 rated it liked it
“Knocking on Heaven’s Door” by Katy Butler, published by Scribner.

Category – Death and Dying Publication Date – September 2013

Death and Dying is certainly not a topic most of us want to read or hear about, however we have been headed that way since our birth and it has been proven to be inescapable “Knocking on Heaven’s Door” is the story of Katy Butler and her parents. Katy explores not only the dying part but what comes before it. Katy’s father, Jeff, in his eighties was given a pacemaker, arg
Apr 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Happened to see this on the shelf at the library after reading Being Mortal. This book is along the same lines, but deals with one woman's personal story of her father's stroke, and the subsequent installation of a pacemaker. His body slowly fell apart, but his heart kept going because pacemaker batteries last a very long time. Definitely a good book to read along with Being Mortal. Can be the start of several conversations for families about what medical decisions should be made regarding quali ...more
Nov 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Superb treatment of a difficult subject -- part memoir and part investigative journalism, read this book BEFORE you make decisions for your parents and, later, for yourself. I walked beside my mother on the long, rugged road to the end of her life, and I learned things in this book that I still didn't know and wish I had. If I had known them, I would have better negotiated that confusing, isolating, and fearful labyrinth we call a hospital. Highly recommended. ...more
Mar 21, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Disclosure: I choose to read this book for review because I have an healthy fascination with death rituals which stems from studying anthropology. I also have several friends that are going into the medical field or are already there. While reading this book I was looking a relaxed, informational way of portraying the information and cultural attitudes about death, while also looking at any "how they did it" sort of information.

Knocking on Heaven's Door is a memoir of what Butler and her family
Jul 18, 2014 rated it it was ok
I was expecting much more from this book. Instead of being an expose or an actual investigative report about the state of "the end of life" industries, it was a not-very-perceptive account of the deaths of the author's father and mother. The author comes off really badly, many of her decisions and actions just reflecting a selfishness that isn't flattering. The book itself focuses on her very baby-boomerish preoccupation with her own life choices and totally derails the idea that the book is "ab ...more
Diane Henry
Sep 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
From the NYT: "Butler finds that the health care system — and society — seem quite unprepared for a patient like her father. Had he received a diagnosis of a terminal illness, the family would have been supported by a ­Medicare-funded hospice team. If he had died, there would have been a funeral, condolences, company. “But there is no public ceremony to commemorate a stroke that blasts your brain utterly, and no common word to describe the ambiguous state of a wife who has lost her husband and b ...more
Mel Ziegler
May 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Every family in America should become an ad hoc book club and start the conversation Katy Butler’s brilliant book provokes. Documenting in heartbreaking detail her father’s descent into a special hell created at the muddled intersection of science and ethics, a hell in which his PaceMaker goes on reliably beating long after virtually every other part of his body shuts down, stripping a proud man of all dignity, a hell that spills over consumes the author and her mother for years, Knocking on Hea ...more
Jacki Leach
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book truly grabbed me, as my family has recently lost an elderly relative to cancer. Death is not a 'family affair' anymore, where the ill are surrounded by those they love, where they may die on their own terms. Author Butler chronicles her own journey during her father's decline into dementia and illness, and when she wrote about how modern medicine prefers to keep elderly people alive instead of letting them go when they are supposed to, it tore apart my heart.

'Knocking on Heaven's Door
May 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Having lost three family members in a year and a half, and witnessing both sudden and protracted death, this book captured each experience excruciatingly accurately. I think Butler has the right amount of clinical and research information in the narrative, and I really like the end part, where she provides a "map" and a reading list. Religion, spirituality, family, medicine - it's all in here. At one point, she writes that though she has been preparing and praying for her father's death for year ...more
Judy Evenson
Sep 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
Not nearly as good as I was hoping it to be. Yes, death and dying is not easy - and yes, sometimes the health care professionals make all the "right calls" and other times... not so much. But geez... lady, did you really have to hang the whole thing on "turn the pacemaker off"? A very complicated topic handled from a very narrow perspective. If she's a whistle blower... seems like she needs a better whistle... disappointed after waiting a long time to actual get the book from the library. ...more
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
Not nearly enough science and medicine or discussion over the system of dying in the United States and entirely too much content covering the authors issues with her mother.
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is well researched and well written and should be read by everyone caring for someone nearing the end of their life. It would not be out of line for anyone approaching their later years to read it as well. I especially liked her historical recounting of the technological developments in medicine which have led us to our current standards of care and I appreciated her cautions regarding the use of these technologies. Emotions and fear all too often lead people to make decisions they mig ...more
Oct 07, 2018 rated it liked it
This is the first book I’ve read on the topic - aging, modern medical treatment, palliative care, hospice, geriatrics, etc. very informative and thought-provoking.

Everyone views life and death through the lenses of his/her worldview. That includes the person who’s aging/dying, the caregivers/family members, and the medical team. While everyone may try to act out of care for the person who is getting the treatment, not everyone can agree on what is “best” or “beneficial” for the patient. With me
Aug 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
Katy Butler describes her parents' health journeys, beginning with her father's stroke and the surgery that placed a pacemaker which kept his heart beating long after his body and brain were worn out and her mother's unsuccessful attempt to have the pacemaker turned off after several years. There is much information about how the health care industry is concerned with preserving life at all costs, and about the choices people have regarding their own medical conditions. It was an informative boo ...more
Feb 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Moving, thoughtful, and beautifully written. Recommended for anyone with aging parents or family members.
Aug 29, 2019 rated it did not like it
First, this book is totally miscategorized. Probably by the publisher and author to begin with, but then libraries have put it in non-fiction, as if this book is an expose on the overreach of the medical field when it comes to end-of-life care that doesn't take quality of life into any account. Instead it is a memoir by the author of her father's very slow decline after a stroke.

I have read hundreds of books and was stunned by how obvious the author gained absolutely no insight into her father'
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Goodreads Librari...: Typo in description 3 15 Apr 11, 2015 08:05PM  
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“When my father was vigorous and lucid, (my mother) regarded medicine as her wily ally in a lifelong campaign to keep old age, sickness, and death at bay. Now ally and foe exchanged masks. Medicine looked more like the enemy, and death the friend. (p. 184)” 3 likes
“When a fine old carpet is eaten by mice, the colors and patterns of what's left behind do not change,' wrote my neighbor and friend, the poet Jane Hirschfield, after she visited an old friend suffering from Alzheimer's disease in a nursing home. And so it was with my father. His mind did not melt evenly into undistinguishable lumps, like a dissolving sand castle. It was ravaged selectively, like Tintern Abbey, the Cistercian monastery in northern Wales suppressed in 1531 by King Henry VIII in his split with the Church of Rome. Tintern was turned over to a nobleman, its stained-glass windows smashed, its roof tiles taken up and relaid in village houses. Holy artifacts were sold to passing tourists. Religious statues turned up in nearby gardens. At least one interior wall was dismantled to build a pigsty.

I've seen photographs of the remains that inspired Wordsworth: a Gothic skeleton, soaring and roofless, in a green hilly landscape. Grass grows in the transept. The vanished roof lets in light. The delicate stone tracery of its slim, arched quatrefoil windows opens onto green pastures where black-and-white cows graze. Its shape is beautiful, formal, and mysterious. After he developed dementia, my father was no longer useful to anybody. But in the shelter of his broken walls, my mother learned to balance her checkbook, and my heart melted and opened. Never would I wish upon my father the misery of his final years. But he was sacred in his ruin, and I took from it the shards that still sustain me.”
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