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A year-long journey by the renowned psychiatrist and his writer wife after her terminal diagnosis, as they reflect on how to love and live without regret. Internationally acclaimed psychiatrist and author Irvin Yalom devoted his career to counseling those suffering from anxiety and grief. But never had he faced the need to counsel himself until his wife, esteemed feminist a A year-long journey by the renowned psychiatrist and his writer wife after her terminal diagnosis, as they reflect on how to love and live without regret. Internationally acclaimed psychiatrist and author Irvin Yalom devoted his career to counseling those suffering from anxiety and grief. But never had he faced the need to counsel himself until his wife, esteemed feminist author Marilyn Yalom, was diagnosed with cancer. In A Matter of Death and Life, Marilyn and Irv share how they took on profound new struggles: Marilyn to die a good death, Irv to live on without her. In alternating accounts of their last months together and Irv's first months alone, they offer us a rare window into facing mortality and coping with the loss of one's beloved. The Yaloms had numerous blessings--a loving family, a Palo Alto home under a magnificent valley oak, a large circle of friends, avid readers around the world, and a long, fulfilling marriage--but they faced death as we all do. With the wisdom of those who have thought deeply, and the familiar warmth of teenage sweethearts who've grown up together, they investigate universal questions of intimacy, love, and grief. Informed by two lifetimes of experience, A Matter of Death and Life is an openhearted offering to anyone seeking support, solace, and a meaningful life.


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A year-long journey by the renowned psychiatrist and his writer wife after her terminal diagnosis, as they reflect on how to love and live without regret. Internationally acclaimed psychiatrist and author Irvin Yalom devoted his career to counseling those suffering from anxiety and grief. But never had he faced the need to counsel himself until his wife, esteemed feminist a A year-long journey by the renowned psychiatrist and his writer wife after her terminal diagnosis, as they reflect on how to love and live without regret. Internationally acclaimed psychiatrist and author Irvin Yalom devoted his career to counseling those suffering from anxiety and grief. But never had he faced the need to counsel himself until his wife, esteemed feminist author Marilyn Yalom, was diagnosed with cancer. In A Matter of Death and Life, Marilyn and Irv share how they took on profound new struggles: Marilyn to die a good death, Irv to live on without her. In alternating accounts of their last months together and Irv's first months alone, they offer us a rare window into facing mortality and coping with the loss of one's beloved. The Yaloms had numerous blessings--a loving family, a Palo Alto home under a magnificent valley oak, a large circle of friends, avid readers around the world, and a long, fulfilling marriage--but they faced death as we all do. With the wisdom of those who have thought deeply, and the familiar warmth of teenage sweethearts who've grown up together, they investigate universal questions of intimacy, love, and grief. Informed by two lifetimes of experience, A Matter of Death and Life is an openhearted offering to anyone seeking support, solace, and a meaningful life.

30 review for A Matter of Death and Life

  1. 5 out of 5

    Petra X is feeling very sad

    How do you rate a book written by a woman who is going through a life-sapping treatment for cancer that will ultimately fail and her husband of 67 years? How do you rate a book where the love for each other is palpable, the agonies of cancer, treatment and incipient separation are searingly, honestly described, sometimes too much information, sometimes tell me more. How do you rate a book where every detail of the legally-assisted suicide is described, and the pain of the first three months makes How do you rate a book written by a woman who is going through a life-sapping treatment for cancer that will ultimately fail and her husband of 67 years? How do you rate a book where the love for each other is palpable, the agonies of cancer, treatment and incipient separation are searingly, honestly described, sometimes too much information, sometimes tell me more. How do you rate a book where every detail of the legally-assisted suicide is described, and the pain of the first three months makes you ache in a reflected grief? How do you rate a book where an old, old man of 87 with physical infirmities and a failing memory with all that implies, but still a brilliant brain, is going to have to shuffle with his cane through life, alone for the very first time? It can't be rated on content, or even the excellent writing, it can only be rated on its emotional impact, and on how it maked me think. I did nothing at all today except listen to this book. It will live with me, so 10 star. Death is easier to face, if life has been well-lived, and Marilyn says that she has nothing to regret, she had a full life. A feminist, author, historian and outstanding academic and mother of three boys and a girl, all very successful, she certainly illuminated 'the crack between two infinite darknesses' that is life. I am reminded of a quote by Chaim Potok in his novel, The ChosenHuman beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here. Dr Yalom says that in a generation or two, has passed, no one will remember their faces, how they spoke, who they were as people and they will truly have passed on and be forgotten. When my brother and I die, my parents will have died too, there will be no one left to remember them. But not so for the Yaloms. Despite the gloomy prediction of Dr Yalom that their books will not be read, that they will just gather dust on shelves, outdated... He is wrong, authors of their calibre with their literary contributions to science and history and feminism will not be forgotten. Biographies will be written about them, and there are videos and photographs, they will live on not just in memory but in mind. It is a kind of immortality. עליה השלום Marilyn, rest in peace. ____________________ Notes on reading (view spoiler)[ Irv Yalom's memory is going, his wife, Marilyn, has cancer, and they are both very old. They met as teenagers, fell in love and have been married 67 years. That is a whole life together they are telling of in alternating chapters. I listened to the book because I thought they were the narrators, but no they were actors! The narration was very well done. (hide spoiler)] A digression on art being shared, like recipes, not unique to an artist, at least in Bali and Haiti (view spoiler)[ Marilyn, speaking about Bali says that you will see the same painting time and time again. That there is no notion of creating unique art, that it is shared by all. I know Bali well, having done a lot of business there in the 90s when I was designing fabrics and clothes for a European company, I was never particularly keen on the paintings altough I do own some. But Haiti, I used to have a collection of wonderful Haitian paintings that 'went' as it were, when I sold my London flat (in order to fund my son's education, given that his father wouldn't make even a penny contribution) and it was the same. I used to think of Haitian art as 'generations'. First generation, the originals, were way beyond me in price, the second generation of the same subject I could sometimes get, but it was more generally the third. There is no end to interpretations of the same subject in different sizes, complexities and with varying talent. I always thought it was for the art/tourist market, but now I'm thinking maybe the idea of art belonging to everyone and uniqueness no more a factor than in cooking recipes, everyone can share and interpret them. (hide spoiler)]

  2. 5 out of 5

    Luka Ruklić

    This book is not an easy read. I'm not referring to the language or the style or the vocabulary. This book is hard to digest because of the sheer amount of emotion contained inside. It deals with death and all things related to death, all topics that we mostly try to avoid in our conversations and our minds. And the fact that it is an autobiographical piece written by a loving couple that spent more than half a century together makes it infinite times more poignant. Don't get me wrong, this is a w This book is not an easy read. I'm not referring to the language or the style or the vocabulary. This book is hard to digest because of the sheer amount of emotion contained inside. It deals with death and all things related to death, all topics that we mostly try to avoid in our conversations and our minds. And the fact that it is an autobiographical piece written by a loving couple that spent more than half a century together makes it infinite times more poignant. Don't get me wrong, this is a wonderfully crafted book. We alternate between chapters written by both spouses and see the world from their perspectives. In Marilyn's chapter, we get the first-hand experience and musings of the person that is facing a life-threatening illness. In Irvin's chapters, we see a mind of a man filled with anticipatory grief and death anxiety, preparing for life without his beloved wife. In those 200 pages, we explore their history, their memories, their feelings, and their thoughts about the afterlife. What gives this book extra value is the fact that Irvin Yalom is a world-renown psychiatrist who at times approaches his mind as he would approach a regular patient. He recognizes the symptoms and offers solutions, but at the same time vividly shows his own pain. In this, he reaffirms his mantra that psychotherapists are not omnipotent and that they experience pain and suffering as much as the patient does. By reading this book you will learn a lot about grief, about the inevitability of death and about human nature. However, the biggest gift this book gives is an idea of what is important in our lives. The notion of where we can find those breadcrumbs of solace when our loved ones are gone. And quite paradoxically, what you might hear after reading this is: Carpe Diem.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I continue to read Irvin Yalom's books, though I feel unsettled by his mix of wisdom and entitlement. It's a beautiful concept for a couple to write together about this journey, but this is not a typical nor relatable tale. When a couple has written many books, been influential in their fields, and led a lifestyle of privilege and travel, it's probably easier to make peace with a life well-lived (this name recognition is why this book was published in the first place). Admittedly, I was bothered I continue to read Irvin Yalom's books, though I feel unsettled by his mix of wisdom and entitlement. It's a beautiful concept for a couple to write together about this journey, but this is not a typical nor relatable tale. When a couple has written many books, been influential in their fields, and led a lifestyle of privilege and travel, it's probably easier to make peace with a life well-lived (this name recognition is why this book was published in the first place). Admittedly, I was bothered by Irv's braggadocio and his dumping of the emotional labor and logistics of death on his children and housekeeper; even though he was honest about it, he lacked empathy for their journeys. One paragraph in this book that was meant to convey how he did right financially by his housekeeper, Gloria, led me to imagine a book by a woman like Gloria. I'm more interested in what it means to have a life well-lived and find peace in your legacy for those who are less privileged. I believe I felt this way because much of the book was about logistics (that, for me, exemplified the privilege) and the short chapters sometimes lacked nuance or depth of emotional vulnerability. Nonetheless, I find value in hearing about how people cope with the journey of dying.

  4. 5 out of 5

    دُعاء| Doaa

    Unforgettable book

  5. 4 out of 5

    Liv Cunningham

    A Matter of Death and Life His latest memoir ‘A Matter of Death and Life – Love Loss and What Matters in the End’ co-written with his wife of 65 years Marilyn has been much anticipated by me. It is at its heart a love story between two people who have co-existed since their teenage years: written in the context of Marilyn’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death at the age of 87. As a Psychotherapist myself I came to this book somewhat in awe of Irvin. I walked away from it slightly in love with A Matter of Death and Life His latest memoir ‘A Matter of Death and Life – Love Loss and What Matters in the End’ co-written with his wife of 65 years Marilyn has been much anticipated by me. It is at its heart a love story between two people who have co-existed since their teenage years: written in the context of Marilyn’s cancer diagnosis and subsequent death at the age of 87. As a Psychotherapist myself I came to this book somewhat in awe of Irvin. I walked away from it slightly in love with Marilyn his wife. I knew nothing of Marilyn until meeting her here. It was a joy to learn about her life and work, an avid and committed feminist, scholar, and parent. Her courage and strength in the face of continual suffering due to her illness shone through with the steadfastness of a beam from a lighthouse. She suffered and wanted to die, she held on so bravely for so long, not for herself but for others, her children, her friends, and her husband, always conscious of the impact her death would have on them. Her compassion and love for her family, for Irvin and others was monumental. What sadden and shocked me most about the telling of this story was seeing Irvin a prominent and influential Psychotherapist, who I so admired, be so unaware of his sexism and racism as illustrated by this passage from page 175, “A couple of months before Marilyn died, she and I took a stroll up our street and saw a new neighbor, a distinguished white-haired elderly man, obviously handicapped, being helped down the front stairs of his home and into an auto-mobile by a younger dark-skinned woman who, no doubt, we assumed, was his caretaker. The day after Christmas, these new neighbors (whom I still had not met yet) invited me to dinner and Christmas carols. I arrived at the house and was greeted by the elderly man and the caretaker. I soon learned that he was a retired MD and that the ‘caretaker’ had an MD and a PhD degree! Moreover, she was not his caretaker but his wife! She was delightful and led the Christmas carols with a glorious voice! Again, my first thought: wait till I tell Marilyn about this!” Sexism and racism are not funny. It is disappointing that at no point in the process from first draft to publication was this picked up, called out or challenged. While Marilyn comes across as a true feminist very much aware of difference and diversity Irvin is lacking in this area. I’m taken aback once again by Irv’s inability or unwillingness to consider the impact on his children of having to care so intimately for their mother, on page 138 “Marilyn is often incontinent, and several times daily my daughter and my youngest son, Ben (who has three very young children and is highly experienced with soiled diapers), help clean and dress her. At such times I walk out of the room: I want to preserve my memory of my beautiful unsullied Marilyn.” Irvin seems to give no thought to the preservation of his children’s memories of their mother. This is a theme that continues throughout the book, leaving it to his children to deal with the messy practical reality of dying and death without a thought for the impact on them. While understandable given the depth of his own despair, for a man so highly regarded as a Psychotherapist this lack of reflection, especially in relation to his own family is disappointing. So much of the emotional labor seems to have been left to Marilyn, hanging on for almost a year, not for herself but out of love for Irvin, repeatedly telling him how much pain she was in and that she wanted to die, that she was only holding on for him, repeatedly met with his denial, his need of her to recover and carry on. This unfortunately is an age-old story - the imbalance of emotional labor in heterosexual relationships and the burden this placed on Marilyn is palpable and painful to witness. While Irvin’s writing is still a joy to read, a point he makes himself in the book, the subtle undertones of racism and sexism highlight his blindness to these issues and the privileges that his whiteness and maleness afford him which makes the story a sad encounter indeed.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sorina Negrilă

    Since I finished the book I thought about the impression it left on me and why that might be - mostly because I've been obsessed with end-of-life issues throughout my 20s and I have to say it's been a bit of a struggle to end my fascination for the questions posed by it throughout my current 30s. So when I heard about the upcoming publication of this specific volume, I was both attracted to it, since I value Yalom's kind and analytic approach, and reticent in opening up old (unanswered) question Since I finished the book I thought about the impression it left on me and why that might be - mostly because I've been obsessed with end-of-life issues throughout my 20s and I have to say it's been a bit of a struggle to end my fascination for the questions posed by it throughout my current 30s. So when I heard about the upcoming publication of this specific volume, I was both attracted to it, since I value Yalom's kind and analytic approach, and reticent in opening up old (unanswered) questions. It's been hailed as a book about enduring love and wisdom towards the end of life, and it is. But to me, it will remain an eye-opener to return to about the wisdom of enjoying life in the absence of love or after love. About approacing 90 and still writing, without restraint, about what you observe happening in your mind, even if it is not flattering and conforming to social stereotypes. One such example is the description of increased sexual interest in spite of being buried deep in the grief process, and him looking for answers in the psychological research as to why that might happen. It is as much a book about parting as it is about learning how to live as a full individual in the absence of one's life-love. Staying true to his existentialist leanings, Yalom writes a book about creating meaning up until the end, of astutely observing and experimenting with what might help achieve that while also observing the pain, despair and hopelessness this process brings up. But it does not cover up in fairy-dust the pain of forgetting, of realizing that the evanescence of memory is the evanescence of self, that one's self dies with the selves of one's closest ones and that the recreation of meaning is not forgetting these grim realities, but the incorporation of their truths. Because in spite of all, one can committ to the admiration of this particular consciousness. Yes, in spite of its evanescence. Stylistically, I caught myself thinking at times "it shows he's aged, he departed from the elegant style of the earlier books I've read" but then I also thought "you bore, you want ageless writing, right?". So yes, you might observe it is written by someone who has indeed aged and makes no secret of it, but if you filter it through your experienced mind, it is as rich as any other Yalom book you've loved along the years.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Andra Nicula

    I received a book written by Marilyn Yalom two or three years ago. No, it could be not just a coincidence of names. So I did some research on her at the time. Yes, she was the wife of Irvin D.Yalom, one of my favourite writers. I was embarrassed that I had never heard of her before, so I was overjoyed to learn that they are co-writing a novel. She was the one who requested that he put his book on hold and begin a new one with her. And that's exactly what he did. A Matter of Life and Death is bea I received a book written by Marilyn Yalom two or three years ago. No, it could be not just a coincidence of names. So I did some research on her at the time. Yes, she was the wife of Irvin D.Yalom, one of my favourite writers. I was embarrassed that I had never heard of her before, so I was overjoyed to learn that they are co-writing a novel. She was the one who requested that he put his book on hold and begin a new one with her. And that's exactly what he did. A Matter of Life and Death is beautiful and moving novel. Deeply sad, but beautiful. I'd say it's a difficult one for those who are about to lose a loved one or have already lost one. The one who has been by your side for more than 70 years. But not just for those. It's a story of loss, acceptance, and love that lasts a lifetime. No matter where you are in life, their story will grow on you. And it will make you think about Death and Life. The way that it is or it should be.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    This is a book that absolutely deserves five stars, and yet I can't grant them because five stars, for me, typically indicates a gripping/delightful reading experience and an intent to re-read. Still, everyone should read A Matter of Death and Life. Unless you are planning to never love anyone and to never die, either (please don't be that person, immortality is lame), spending time with Irv and Marilyn is very much worth the discomfort. Irv Yalom is a legendary psychologist (89, now) who has im This is a book that absolutely deserves five stars, and yet I can't grant them because five stars, for me, typically indicates a gripping/delightful reading experience and an intent to re-read. Still, everyone should read A Matter of Death and Life. Unless you are planning to never love anyone and to never die, either (please don't be that person, immortality is lame), spending time with Irv and Marilyn is very much worth the discomfort. Irv Yalom is a legendary psychologist (89, now) who has impacted my emerging career as a therapist via a multitude of his texts. The man was honest and vulnerable long before that started to become a cool thing on TikTok. He'll tell you exactly what he thinks about his clients, exactly what is bouncing around in his brain (even when it's vain, shameful, or racy), and exactly why losing Marilyn is the worst pain he has ever experienced. Marilyn (a professor of French lit at Stanford) and Irv met and fell in love at age 15 in Brooklyn. They were two teens that instantly clung together and never let go. Their life as a couple, featuring tons of published books, teaching posts, trips around the world, and four children, was remarkable. It was the quality of this life that Marilyn insisted made it possible for her to not be afraid of death. Marilyn suggested that she and Irv write this book together in alternating chapters as the grip of her terminal illness tightened. You know it's coming the whole time, but when the book shifts to Irv-only chapters, it's not easy to keep reading. I had to take breaks, but I knew I owed it both to myself and to Irv to finish. As someone who has been studying grief for several years now, I appreciated all the ways in which Irv thought he would think and behave as a widower, only to realize that his predictions were futile. It didn't matter that he has been a psychologist for over sixty years and that he has counseled countless bereaved clients. Grief is the great equalizer. No amount of money, fame, fortune, or intellectualism can protect us from its throes. But Irv knows one thing that can make it worse: pretending that it's not there. Unfortunately, that is exactly the way Western society operates. Hushed tones, frozen casseroles, 3-day bereavement leaves, "she slipped away" and other euphemisms-- you know the drill. Thus, while the book is no talisman, it is indeed a sacred gem. I wish I could gift it to every single young, shrill, bachelorette that pedal-taverns her way around Broadway here in Nashville draped in penis necklaces. You want to get married? Go for it. But if you can't bear to hold space with Irv and Marilyn for 212 pages, truly contemplating what it means to hold the hand of your dying betrothed, well, what can I say? It's going to take a lot more than death for you to learn about life. Thankfully, Irv and Marilyn made a commitment to explore and respect both throughout the long arc of their beautiful relationship.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Scribe Publications

    This beautiful, poignant, and uplifting memoir is a love story, a tale of two incredibly accomplished lives that were lived almost as one, the sum turning out to be so much greater than its parts. It will inspire you and perhaps move you to look differently at your life — it did that for me. Abraham Verghese, Author of Cutting for Stone For over half a century, the eminent psychiatrist Irvin Yalom has dazzled the world with his stories of the human psyche packed with wisdom, insight, and humour. N This beautiful, poignant, and uplifting memoir is a love story, a tale of two incredibly accomplished lives that were lived almost as one, the sum turning out to be so much greater than its parts. It will inspire you and perhaps move you to look differently at your life — it did that for me. Abraham Verghese, Author of Cutting for Stone For over half a century, the eminent psychiatrist Irvin Yalom has dazzled the world with his stories of the human psyche packed with wisdom, insight, and humour. Now, with stunning candour and courage, he shares with us the most difficult experience of his life: the loss of his wife and steadfast companion since adolescence. Partners to the end, including in the co-writing of this book, they share an indelible portrait of bereavement — the terror, pain, denial, and reluctant acceptance. But what we are left with is much more than a profound story of enduring loss — it's an unforgettable and achingly beautiful story of enduring love. I will be thinking about this for years to come. Lori Gottlieb, New York Times Bestselling Author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone A Matter of Death and Life is so much more than a book. It is an indefatigable love story. It is a text that traverses past and present. It is exquisite, candid, and vulnerable — absent the too-common defenses of artifice and pomposity — as it approaches the untenable pain of separation and unyielding yearning of loss. Every person would benefit from multiple readings of this intelligently relatable book, both to confront dying as we inch toward our own mortality and, perhaps more importantly, the grief when one so beloved precedes us in death. I am deeply enriched for having absorbed this intimate narrative, as I wipe the tears from my eyes. Irv and Marilyn's love story, ending in the tragedy of endings, is yours, mine, and all of ours. Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, Author of Bearing the Unbearable This is a remarkable book — as remarkable as its authors, Irv Yalom, the master existential therapist and widely read author, and Marilyn Yalom, an accomplished scholar and writer. Summoning immense courage, the Yaloms co-write the story of their emotional and moral caregiving for each other. A Matter of Death and Life is the culmination of the Yaloms’ career-long quests for wisdom in the art of living and dying. It is a book that transforms the reader — I couldn't put it down. Arthur Kleinman, Author of The Soul of Care The Yaloms are not just honest, but astonishingly generous with their readers. This book takes its immediate place in the canon of great end-of-life memoirs. Caitlin Doughty, Founder of The Order of the Good Death This book is illuminating and vivid, a beautiful examination of the consolation of a life well-lived, and a beacon of hope to all of us who will be bereaved. And of course, it is an exposition of how we who are mortal learn to live with that very truth about ourselves. Kathryn Mannix, Sunday Times bestselling author of With the End in Mind: dying, death and wisdom in an age of denial A Matter of Death and Life is an extremely candid and readable memoir about the painful, yet insightful and productive last months of a long, loving relationship that ended with the death of Marilyn Yalom. Geoffrey Zygier

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jan Goericke

    Probably the most beautiful love and life story I have read in my life ending with words ("Letter to Marilyn") that literally took my breath away. Yes, I cried. Irvin Yalom made a significant impression on me when reading "Existential Psychotherapy" last year. In "A Matter of Death and Life," we meet him and his wife (89 and 87) at the final chapter of their lives. Marilyn Yalom was also a Professor at Stanford (comparative French literature). Marilyn is diagnosed with cancer and each provided a Probably the most beautiful love and life story I have read in my life ending with words ("Letter to Marilyn") that literally took my breath away. Yes, I cried. Irvin Yalom made a significant impression on me when reading "Existential Psychotherapy" last year. In "A Matter of Death and Life," we meet him and his wife (89 and 87) at the final chapter of their lives. Marilyn Yalom was also a Professor at Stanford (comparative French literature). Marilyn is diagnosed with cancer and each provided an alternating chapter to this book. What does it mean to die after a long, successful, and beautiful life? Does it help Irv that he worked in the field of existential therapy his entire career? How do you reconcile death with 70 years of marriage, companionship, and love? Can one prepare for one's death? Bouts of sex obsessions at 89, can that be normal? Why is there no study or literature on that? Do you need to leave 'a legacy' behind? Is there grace in death? “Many die too late and some die too early. Still the doctrine sounds strange: 'Die at the right time.'" Zarathustra, Nietzsche I don't remember ever reading a more intimate, open, and beautiful book about "an ordinary human life." If you want to get a clear glimpse of your "best case scenario," un-avoidable future, READ THIS BOOK! (Audiobook has a male and female narrator)

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dd

    I thought this was a pretty remarkable book. It took a lot of courage for the authors, especially Irvin, to write so candidly about his death anxiety, personal losses and his struggles with grief. Irvin and Marilyn shared a beautiful love story that was at times quite an emotional read. I’ve always been a huge fan of Yalom and after reading this I feel like I’ve gotten to know him a lot better.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Enchanted Prose

    Life-affirming, love at first sight (Palo Alto, California; April 2019 – March 2020): Do you believe in love at first sight? Enduring love until death do us part? “Few regrets” in life? If you do, this book is for you. If you don’t, this book is for you. Expect to be teary-eyed while wrapped in a comforting blanket as two distinguished professors and prolific authors candidly offer “two minds rather than one” as they look back on sixty-five years of a joyful, caring marriage and overflowing, rewa Life-affirming, love at first sight (Palo Alto, California; April 2019 – March 2020): Do you believe in love at first sight? Enduring love until death do us part? “Few regrets” in life? If you do, this book is for you. If you don’t, this book is for you. Expect to be teary-eyed while wrapped in a comforting blanket as two distinguished professors and prolific authors candidly offer “two minds rather than one” as they look back on sixty-five years of a joyful, caring marriage and overflowing, rewarding lives until one is diagnosed with multiple myeloma (“cancer of the plasma cells”) and the other overwrought about losing the “most important person in my life.” One fearing so much of his past will be lost as his soul-mate was at the heart of it all, while also experiencing disturbing memory issues. All triggering “obsessional thinking” and “traumatic repression.” Unthinkable it would seem for a man who devoted sixty years to psychological healing with devotees all around the world. A pioneering existential psychotherapist who treated countless bereaved clients now fears living as an “independent adult” for the first time in his life. Faced with the “inevitability of death” not unlike all of us when you strip the meaning of life down to its core. “How do we live meaningfully until the very end?” Two graceful people also ask in graceful prose, “How can we gracefully leave this world to the next generation?” That man is Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Stanford University, Dr. Irvin Yalom. That woman was Dr. Marilyn Yalom, who also had an immense reach and resonance as a Stanford professor of French language, literature, and culture, and a feminist pioneer in women’s studies. Trailblazers in their respective fields. With four children and eight great-grandchildren, a tight-knit, supportive family, plus an endless list of admirers – students, colleagues, researchers, readers – it’s hard to imagine more loving, fulfilling, good, and generous lives. Their last year together is remarkably life-affirming as each lived with few regrets. Each, though, taking a different perspective on how long to hold on for the other when your dignity is being chipped away with intolerable physical pain and hope dimming by the day. Among the many themes packed into this short, provocative memoir (222 pages, including two beautiful photos and the poignant cover sketch) is the thorny topic of choosing when to die if it’s legal in your state. California is one of the states that has passed compassionate physician-assistant death with dignity laws, the word suicide rejected. By a twist of fate, Irvin Yalom is supremely qualified to write about this as he’s known for his ability to counsel through “difficult dialogue.” Including baring his personal feelings, considered part of why he’s been so successful in changing lives. You’ll find Marilyn Yalom equally capable and frank, coming across as more practical-minded compared to his existentialist thinking and struggles with “death anxiety.” Both painfully honest in sharing their “torrent of pain”: hers more physical, his more psychic. Both philosophical as they document the worst year of their lives. She calmer and accepting, he more fearful and denying. Both grateful for all their blessings. Which explains the emphasis in the title of death before life. And yet, above all else this intimate memoir is a wondrous celebration of two lives, and the grief that comes when their journey together is ending. “Mourning is the price we pay to have the courage to love,” the opening epigraph, speaks to all of us about “living meaningfully.” “Evanescence” is a lovely word appearing in the title of one of Irvin Yalom’s chapters. It embraces a love story kindled when a fifteen-year-old boy fell in love with a girl about his age in ninth grade. That man is now 88; Marilyn was 87. If you haven’t had a reason to become acquainted with Irvin Yalom’s psychotherapeutic work, you may have read one of his “teaching novels.” Spanning forty years, from 1974 to 2015, they include Every Day Gets a Little Closer; Love’s Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy; When Nietzsche Wept; Lying on the Couch; Momma and the Meaning of Life; The Schopenhauer Cure; I’m Calling the Police! A Tale of Regression and Recovery; The Spinoza Problem; and Creatures of the Day (https://www.yalom.com/books). I was personally influenced by Yalom’s landmark textbook, The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy, as a graduate student at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, where they both were born and raised. (The influence of their East European Jewish parents described with wonderful introspection.) I still recall the third edition’s purple cover and circles at the bottom for its surprisingly eloquent prose for a text, the bible in my group counseling course. The jacket colors have changed over the years; multi-colored with circles everywhere for the sixth edition co-written with Dr. Molyn Leszcz, President of the American Counseling Association, while Irvin Yalom was also writing this memoir. In the forty-minute TED talk below, How a Life Shape’s a Life’s Work, Leszcz shares the stage with his forty-year old friend and collaborator, an “iconic figure” who “inspired generations of group therapists” on the “human condition.” https://youtu.be/0L0vNOr2YKI It’s “rare for a psychiatric text” to stay in print for so long, says Jeffrey Berman, an English Professor at SUNY Albany who wrote the only book that’s examined the full body of Yalom’s writings, Writing the Talking Cure: Irvin D. Yalom and the Literature of Psychotherapy. Marilyn Yalom matches her husband’s compassion and slew of admirers, inundated with so many wanting to visit her during this precious time. Having to pace herself not to overtax how much she can extend of herself while she’s in wretched pain and dying. She too has a long list of published books, including Before the Chess Queen; How the French Invented Love; A History of the Wife; The Social Sex: A History of Female Friendship; The History of the Breast; and The Amorous Heart: An Unconventional History of Love released in 2018 (myalom.com). She too was committed to another writing project while writing this memoir: Innocent Witnesses: Childhood Memories of WWII, with an introduction by bestselling author Meg Waite Clayton, whose WWII novel, The Last Train to London, was reviewed here: https://enchantedprose.com/the-last-train-to-london/. One of their sons, Ben, finished it. (Yes, planning to read it.) To glimpse Marilyn’s presence, eloquence, and knowledge watch her give a fourteen-minute TED talk on How the Heart Became a Symbol of Love: https://youtu.be/d9Yb6pQagHs That’s what this memoir is: a symbol of love. In commenting on an art exhibit that recently opened at the New Museum in NYC on Grievance in Art and Mourning in America, Washington Post art critic Sebastian Smee asks, “How do you translate mourning into community?” That too is what this memoir is about. It’s not only a gift for us but for a profoundly grieving widower who discovers the hours he spends completing the memoir over four months brought him solace. Recounting it’s only “120 steps” from his Palo Alto home flooded with memories to his office, he still finds happiness while writing. Marilyn knew he would because writing the memoir together was her idea. Lorraine (EnchantedProse.com)

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anastasia

    I have reached the end with great difficulty. This is a story about great love, great loss and a great departure. Marylin had said that the death of an 87 year old woman who has no regrets is not a tragedy, but it certainly felt like one. She was strong until the very end. She wrote about her own death. The second half of the book is the account of her husband coping with the loss of the only love of his life. His mind is conflicted between the thought that she is gone forever from existence, an I have reached the end with great difficulty. This is a story about great love, great loss and a great departure. Marylin had said that the death of an 87 year old woman who has no regrets is not a tragedy, but it certainly felt like one. She was strong until the very end. She wrote about her own death. The second half of the book is the account of her husband coping with the loss of the only love of his life. His mind is conflicted between the thought that she is gone forever from existence, and the hope that he will see her again when he dies too. He's hoping to die sooner so that he would be reunited with her, even though his rational mind doesn't allow him to believe in the afterlife. It's sad from the very start, I'm not gonna lie. But it's also a manifest to a life well lived. Death is not something we can think of lightly, but maybe we could accept it a bit easier if we're at peace with our selves. She was, and she left this life a better place.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Carroll Larremore

    Dr. Yalom, I have been reading your books for 30 years and this was the best. What a beautiful poignant read this was. While reading, I would often go back and reread the previous four pages or so when I picked it backup just to feel my way through where I had left off. Bravo, Dr. Yalom, you have helped so many with your "care." As a former therapist, you reminded me of the spectacular and moving events that can take place in a therapist's office between two people that are earth shattering and Dr. Yalom, I have been reading your books for 30 years and this was the best. What a beautiful poignant read this was. While reading, I would often go back and reread the previous four pages or so when I picked it backup just to feel my way through where I had left off. Bravo, Dr. Yalom, you have helped so many with your "care." As a former therapist, you reminded me of the spectacular and moving events that can take place in a therapist's office between two people that are earth shattering and incredibly moving. Thank you for your body of work and now I must go reread The Gift of Therapy.

  15. 4 out of 5

    John Waire

    One of those books that pulls you in and tears up your insides. We all know how it ends.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Alexander Vreede

    One can have only the greatest respect for the authors going through this final phase and trying to describe what they are thinking and feeling. Nevertheless the book left me with a feeling of having been a ‘voyeur’: reading stuff so personal and intimate that I had no right to read. Therefore I can’t share the praise given to this highly personal book. For me it was just simply too personal.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mihaela

    When I heard about this book being written and the very difficult topics it covers(assisted suicide of the terminally ill, the end of a more than 70 years relationship and the grief afterwards) I thought that life has it ways to make everybody live it's fears. Many of Dr Yalom books cover the fear of death or the recovery of many of his patients after losing somebody close to them, some of which said it is not possible for him to understand this as he has not lost somebody so close to him. He is When I heard about this book being written and the very difficult topics it covers(assisted suicide of the terminally ill, the end of a more than 70 years relationship and the grief afterwards) I thought that life has it ways to make everybody live it's fears. Many of Dr Yalom books cover the fear of death or the recovery of many of his patients after losing somebody close to them, some of which said it is not possible for him to understand this as he has not lost somebody so close to him. He is not a religion person and he believes that after death will be nothing, that the ones gone will live only in the memory of those who knew them. Wonderful read as all other Dr Yalom books and this time also his wife is writing a few chapters, each of them writing about the experience from his point of view.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Caren

    It is difficult to label my response to reading this text as having "really like[d] it". To be allowed into this intimate portrait of the life-time relationship and 63 years of marriage of Irvin and Marilyn Yalom was a privilege, yet often an uncomfortable read because of the deep emotions it revealed. Highly respected psychiatrist and writer, Irvin Yalom, and his beloved wife, Marilyn, acclaimed feminist author, co-wrote this journey through the last months of Marilyn's life as the loving coupl It is difficult to label my response to reading this text as having "really like[d] it". To be allowed into this intimate portrait of the life-time relationship and 63 years of marriage of Irvin and Marilyn Yalom was a privilege, yet often an uncomfortable read because of the deep emotions it revealed. Highly respected psychiatrist and writer, Irvin Yalom, and his beloved wife, Marilyn, acclaimed feminist author, co-wrote this journey through the last months of Marilyn's life as the loving couple faced her imminent death from cancer. In alternating chapters, taking the reader up to the point where Marilyn was no longer able to write, the elderly couple shared their love and pain as they faced their mortality, her struggle to "die a good death" and his overwhelming grief in preparing to live without her. The result is a guide through the existential questions that occupy so much of our thinking about love, the meaning of a "lived" life, and the death that awaits us all. In their late eighties, the couple contemplated the enriching lives they had been privileged to lead, the support and love of close family and friends and, particularly, the lasting love they had shared since they had been teenagers. Yalom shared so much of what he had learned in his decades of therapy sessions from his patients and with his own therapists as he faced his retirement and the slow onset of dementia. The acknowledgement that his own memories were disappearing was heightened by his realisation that the memories Marilyn shared and held for him would no longer be accessible to him. The sadness and grief were palpable, but never melodramatic - rather, there was always something for the reader to gain from these insights and Yalom's openness. Yalom commented that this book was written to help them "fight against despair", "to help [them] navigate the end of life." It is filled with love, with Irvin's dedication to and support of Marilyn's courage in choosing to die "at the right time". I felt the bereavement myself after having been part of their journey. But, their shared thoughts also gave me new directions in thinking about my own mortality.

  19. 5 out of 5

    rolandamycatspeaksvolumes

    Simple yet strangely unique. This is a beautiful document of a seventy-three (I think!)-year relationship alternating between the viewpoints of the ever-incisive, ever clear-headed psychiatrist Irvin Yalom and his beloved with Marilyn, whom he knew from the age of fifteen. The pair are in their late eighties at the start of the book. On the face of it it looks like a pretty elementary conceit: a husband and wife write a chapter each throughout the latter's battle with terminal cancer. But there' Simple yet strangely unique. This is a beautiful document of a seventy-three (I think!)-year relationship alternating between the viewpoints of the ever-incisive, ever clear-headed psychiatrist Irvin Yalom and his beloved with Marilyn, whom he knew from the age of fifteen. The pair are in their late eighties at the start of the book. On the face of it it looks like a pretty elementary conceit: a husband and wife write a chapter each throughout the latter's battle with terminal cancer. But there's something about both Yaloms' individual, unmistakable, yet distinctly different styles that lets each tell a story simultaneously personal and yet consistent with their spouse's. I'm not sure if anyone in any profession has created such a document before, but it makes for one of the scant earnest, compatible recollections of a relationships I've ever read. Most people would assume that any annals of a partnership - no matter how long-term - would have some contradictions; some daily stories told with different viewpoints and perhaps even a set of different facts. Here the perspectives are their own - and yet we manage to decipher the extent to which they compliment each other in the unmatched eloquence of each. It's pretty clear why their marriage lasted till death did them part. For anyone not partial to memoir - especially of something so dark - you can be reassured this isn't maudlin. Both Yaloms are honest without being in the "confessional" mode so in fashion today; both are reasonable and reflective without any affectations. I guess it takes two extremely sagacious, extremely well-read academics with a special sensibility to have the power to compose this sort of book. Beautiful proportion of heart-rending to heartwarming; neither too much nor too little.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bianca Mogos

    I have recently lost my grandmother, who was like a mother to me and such a presence in my life. Having lost her so suddenly, made the shock and grief so much bigger. I went into this book after listening Yalom read its last chapter for an online event and I was so heartbroken. I cried like a baby. As the preorder had just arrived, I thought it would be way too soon for me to read. But I am strangely comforted by the book. It calmed and touched on my own death anxiety, and all in all, I think it I have recently lost my grandmother, who was like a mother to me and such a presence in my life. Having lost her so suddenly, made the shock and grief so much bigger. I went into this book after listening Yalom read its last chapter for an online event and I was so heartbroken. I cried like a baby. As the preorder had just arrived, I thought it would be way too soon for me to read. But I am strangely comforted by the book. It calmed and touched on my own death anxiety, and all in all, I think it was a great timing. I loved Marilyn’s dignity in the face of such a cruel faith and I hope when the time comes I’ll be able to face my end with such grace. After all, the main thing you need to take out of this book is that a life wel lived will allow you to be at peace with death. So stop wasting your time and enjoy this wonder that is consciousness.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Susan Valentine

    It is Marilyn”s idea to write this book, apparently insisting on it, and yet you can see how this becomes a lifeline for Irvin as he faces this tremendous loss. While the book is about death and facing loss, at its heart is a great love story. It is true that Irvin does not acknowledge enough his privilege or focus on the impact on his children, but this is a story of their marital relationship and the painful and existential vulnerability of it coming to an end. I so appreciated the candour and It is Marilyn”s idea to write this book, apparently insisting on it, and yet you can see how this becomes a lifeline for Irvin as he faces this tremendous loss. While the book is about death and facing loss, at its heart is a great love story. It is true that Irvin does not acknowledge enough his privilege or focus on the impact on his children, but this is a story of their marital relationship and the painful and existential vulnerability of it coming to an end. I so appreciated the candour and honesty and the perseverance of both of them to finish this book given the grief and pain they were experiencing. And also Irvin sharing insights on navigating the end of his career as his cognitive faculties decline, which is another significant loss.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    This was a tough read. Touching and poignant, and beautifully written, but hard to grapple with. As a clinical counselor who “grew up” in the field on many of Yalom’s books and conference presentations, I appreciated his transparency about his struggle with the dying of his wife of 65 years. He admitted that even as a grief therapist, he didn’t know how to grieve or what grief really was. I had not heard about his wife, Marilyn, who was quite a scholar herself, as well as a loving mother’ mentor This was a tough read. Touching and poignant, and beautifully written, but hard to grapple with. As a clinical counselor who “grew up” in the field on many of Yalom’s books and conference presentations, I appreciated his transparency about his struggle with the dying of his wife of 65 years. He admitted that even as a grief therapist, he didn’t know how to grieve or what grief really was. I had not heard about his wife, Marilyn, who was quite a scholar herself, as well as a loving mother’ mentor, and friend. Their love story was beautifully described by both partners. They both bared their souls and shared this very personal journey through Marilyn’s dying and death. What a gift! I appreciated this book.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rachel DiCerbo

    Moving, emotional portrait of aging couple facing death, told from perspective of husband and wife. Both having been well accomplished scholars and lived their lives to the fullest, Marilyn has no regrets and wants to "die at the right time" while her husband fears not so much death but a life without his beloved wife. I was impressed by their accomplishments, moved by their love for one another but ultimately saddened by their belief in nothingness. That death is just the end and nothing exists f Moving, emotional portrait of aging couple facing death, told from perspective of husband and wife. Both having been well accomplished scholars and lived their lives to the fullest, Marilyn has no regrets and wants to "die at the right time" while her husband fears not so much death but a life without his beloved wife. I was impressed by their accomplishments, moved by their love for one another but ultimately saddened by their belief in nothingness. That death is just the end and nothing exists from there and even memories by others will eventually fade. Saddened still by Marilyn qouting bible passages but having no belief in their truths and the eternity that exist.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chippiya

    As some of the other reviewers have called out - there were a couple of jarring instances/anecdotes that surfaced the follies and shortcomings of one of the authors - however it does not take away the clarity with which he writes, the life lessons and vulnerability he shares with his readers, and the sheer courage it takes to acknowledge that what he advocated for his entire career as a therapist was not that easy to embrace when it came to his own experiences in dealing with grief and loss afte As some of the other reviewers have called out - there were a couple of jarring instances/anecdotes that surfaced the follies and shortcomings of one of the authors - however it does not take away the clarity with which he writes, the life lessons and vulnerability he shares with his readers, and the sheer courage it takes to acknowledge that what he advocated for his entire career as a therapist was not that easy to embrace when it came to his own experiences in dealing with grief and loss after a full life lived. Marilyn Yalom's depth of personality shone through all the chapters - what a full life lived! The book is conceptualized and executed beautifully with alternating chapters between the two authors - partners for over 65 years - lives intertwined but each one distinct and on their own journey. It can be a trigger alert and a difficult read so best to take on when the cup is at least half full.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy Nesbit

    I have enjoyed Irvin Yalom's writing for over twenty years and this book seemed to be a timely read as I walk alongside my mother in her later years. I really appreciated the experience of reading chapters by Irvin and his wife and fellow author Marilyn, both fluent and eminently readable. It is a tender and vulnerable - intimate - book giving insights into what it's like to approach death, whether one's own or another. The editing allowed for repetition by both authors which might be irritating I have enjoyed Irvin Yalom's writing for over twenty years and this book seemed to be a timely read as I walk alongside my mother in her later years. I really appreciated the experience of reading chapters by Irvin and his wife and fellow author Marilyn, both fluent and eminently readable. It is a tender and vulnerable - intimate - book giving insights into what it's like to approach death, whether one's own or another. The editing allowed for repetition by both authors which might be irritating for some. For me, it underscored the forgetfulness and urgency of old age. I was grateful for the authors' raw honesty.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gwen

    After reading Irvin Yalom since I was a new graduate students, way back in the 19th century, I was so sad to read that Marilyn had died. But I was touched that they had written this together, and knew I would buy it. A hallmark of Yalom's writing has always been the willingness to be vulnerable, and not to shy away from hard topics. His writing has helped me move towards doing the same, for decades now. And I am so grateful to him for this work, still telling stories so that others feel less alo After reading Irvin Yalom since I was a new graduate students, way back in the 19th century, I was so sad to read that Marilyn had died. But I was touched that they had written this together, and knew I would buy it. A hallmark of Yalom's writing has always been the willingness to be vulnerable, and not to shy away from hard topics. His writing has helped me move towards doing the same, for decades now. And I am so grateful to him for this work, still telling stories so that others feel less alone as they walk their own paths. This book, in alternating chapters with his wife Marilyn in the last year of her life, is brave and moving.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ferris

    Such a powerful, moving experience to read this book. I have previously read only Irvin Yalom's fiction. I thought each novel was excellent! This book is a chronicle written by the husband and wife team, sharing, in alternating chapters, their experience of the end of her life due to illness. I personally could identify with Marilyn Yalom, although I am currently chronic vs. terminal. The weariness as long term treatment takes its toll was so well described! I truly appreciate the authors' willi Such a powerful, moving experience to read this book. I have previously read only Irvin Yalom's fiction. I thought each novel was excellent! This book is a chronicle written by the husband and wife team, sharing, in alternating chapters, their experience of the end of her life due to illness. I personally could identify with Marilyn Yalom, although I am currently chronic vs. terminal. The weariness as long term treatment takes its toll was so well described! I truly appreciate the authors' willingness to share their journey with honesty and openness. A fantastic book for persons and families coping with death and loss.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Natasha

    Such a heartfelt journey of love and loss. As I read each chapter I felt privileged to have been Invited on such a personal journey. I felt intimately part of their emotional process, like I was sitting, always just to the side discreetly, respectfully, quietly witnessing their rich lives and the subsequent period of pain both Marilyn and Irv endured. I loved with them, cried with them and went numb with them... there is no real escape from the givens of existence.... we may choose the protectio Such a heartfelt journey of love and loss. As I read each chapter I felt privileged to have been Invited on such a personal journey. I felt intimately part of their emotional process, like I was sitting, always just to the side discreetly, respectfully, quietly witnessing their rich lives and the subsequent period of pain both Marilyn and Irv endured. I loved with them, cried with them and went numb with them... there is no real escape from the givens of existence.... we may choose the protection of magical thinking or denial or meet them in the best way we know how....

  29. 4 out of 5

    miss e brooks

    I have just finished Irvin Yaloms new book via audible. It was one of the best books I have listen to and I am just about to purchase the kindle as the paperback isn't out till next year. I have just finished 2 level 2 courses and will be doing a degree in September and Irvin Yalom is just the kind of therapist I want to be. I feel an intense admiration for him and such respect. His so open and honest and isn't afraid to write about his own vulnerability which is so refreshing and beautiful. I a I have just finished Irvin Yaloms new book via audible. It was one of the best books I have listen to and I am just about to purchase the kindle as the paperback isn't out till next year. I have just finished 2 level 2 courses and will be doing a degree in September and Irvin Yalom is just the kind of therapist I want to be. I feel an intense admiration for him and such respect. His so open and honest and isn't afraid to write about his own vulnerability which is so refreshing and beautiful. I am also watching his sessions on YouTube.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Karen Shilvock-Cinefro

    Being a fan of the Yalom’s I enjoyed both the audible and hard copy of the book. The thoughts of Marilyn about her illness and before her death along with Irvin’s experience through this time in their lives. His writing and insights are very touching, philosophical, and at times clinical. I am saddened by the fact that they do not have the hope of faith in everlasting life and the peace that could have brought to their lives together. Shalom.

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