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ISBN: 978-1-940222-35-6
154 pages

$16.97 in softcover

$6.99 in Kindle

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Encountering The Edge

What People Told Me Before They Died

by Hospice Chaplain Karen B. Kaplan


What's it like to be just a month, a week,
a breath away from death?

      Unencumbered by religious agendas and pat answers, Encountering the Edge satisfies our curiosity concerning what people believe in, shrug their shoulders at, laugh at, and most care about as they face Act 3, Scene 3, of their lives. Join Chaplain Kaplan as she visits her hospice patients, and share her sense of adventure and openness to the experience. The author also reveals the inner workings of a hospice agency from a chaplain's viewpoint both on the road and in the office.
      Readers will encounter odd, poignant, revealing, and even amusing characters, such as a countercultural type who always greeted Kaplan with "Hey, doll!" and a World War Two veteran who beat the odds and left hospice to live well for over a year. Kaplan also illuminates what patients think will happen in the hereafter, as well as her own path and deeper motivations for entering this career. In the last chapter, Kaplan explores what it would be like to be a hospice patient herself, talking with a seasoned chaplain who gently lets her express her beliefs, regrets, sources of meaning, and hopes.
      Encountering the Edge is a unique view of a topic that affects us all, and provides comfort combined with humor and insight that allows readers to feel safe in this unknown territory. Come explore The Edge with Karen.
Praise for Encountering the Edge

Karen's humorous, compassionate, and insightful stories about the 7 years she spent as a hospice chaplain help readers to demystify the experiences of dying and death. I love the fact that Kaplan doesn't take herself too seriously and is able to share stories of her "mistakes" as well as her "successes." As a hospice volunteer, I am familiar with the terrain of end of life care. I believe that this book has much to offer to families, hospice volunteers, chaplains and others as they come to terms with death. They will find that this book, far from being all "doom and gloom" offers tales of laughter and humour as well.
      ~ Katherine on Goodreads

Dying to read this book
"It's rare I come across a Chaplain who appears to understand Chaplaincy. Karen Kaplan's new book, Encountering the Edge, is a welcome breath of fresh air and a genuine pleasure to read.

      "After my own quarter-century as an Interfaith Chaplain it's a relief to discover this little book sprinkled with honest, practical and playful stories of real people near the end of life. Rabbi Karen reveals a reasonable, sensitive intent in her role as a story-listener and a story-teller. Faith or no faith, we are brought up close and personal to life issues we all will eventually face.
      . . .
      "Karen's openness and even encouragement to ask the most difficult (often un-answerable) questions while sharing vulnerability was simple and simply stunning. That a small book relating to death and dying could be so life-affirming without the usual platitudes of shallow spirituality is remarkable.
      "There is little in this book that disturbs my reason as a non-theist. If anything this could well serve to encourage (alongside my own book, My Address is a River) new models of cooperative, collaborative Chaplaincies across all imagined boundaries between "sacreds and seculars."
      "In case you haven't guessed, I highly recommend Encountering the Edge.
      "The next time I teach a Master's course on Chaplaincy I will definitely include this book as a required text."
      ~ Chris Highland, full review at Secular Chaplain

"Karen Kaplan writes with the voice of a woman who knows her subject and its importance from real-world experience tending to the spiritual and human needs of the sick and dying. Her blog, Off-Beat Compassion, is a must-read on my list of regular sources as I cover death, dying, grief and the end-of-life."
      ~ Jaweed Kaleem, National Religion Reporter, The Huffington Post

"Encountering the Edge: What People Told Me Before They Died, describes hospice chaplaincy in an intimate, personal way. The book allowed me, a hospice chaplain for 9 years, an opportunity to reflect on different aspects of this sacred profession. From the author's description of being able to find humor in hospice care, to the deeply personal encounters we all face in the most unexpected ways, to the navigating of chaplaincy with other religious and spiritual perspectives, Chaplain Kaplan's (which she described as humorous in its usage) work took me on a journey. Hospice chaplaincy is unique in certain ways. We often have to build trust with people under intense duress and emotional turmoil. At other times, we build long, deep relationships with patients and families we know will come to an end. We are challenged with seeing death almost daily, encountering the fragility of life without refuge. —more—
      ~ Bryan Kinzbrunner, book review in achaplainsjourney.wordpress.com

"I was drawn into Kaplan's story-telling. Death is particularly poignant to me. Last week, the coworker, who sat behind me, passed away ten days into retirement. I didn't want to read about death-bed revelations, but Kaplan's prose and style drew me into the story-telling 'campfire's' circle.
      "What I most enjoyed was the ecumenical approach of Kaplan, a Jewish chaplain, who had no trouble collaborating with a Muslim on behalf of a Baptist patient. Kindness and irreverent humor transcend."
      ~ Dr. Karen Hulene Bartell, PhD, author of Sacred Choices

"Kaplan brings a refreshing balance of rare insight and wry humor to what people near the end shared with her during her seven years at hospices."
      ~ Dr. Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of www.FierceWithAge.com

An Excerpt:

      As I walked into Barney's room a few doors down from the nursing home lobby, the last thing he wanted from me was pious talk. Knowing that I was a rabbi added an extra kick for the way he greeted me. You see, every time I visited him, he tested me with a forbidden-fruit glance and called out, "Hey doll!" Given the circumstances of Barney being in Act 3 Scene 3 of his life, I was charmed rather than offended. When we had first become acquainted, he was so surprised a woman could be a rabbi.
      "I guess I wasn't in the know about these kinds of things," he said, looking embarrassed. "It's been a long time since I've had anything to do with Jewish stuff."
      When I asked him why that was, he hinted at a life permeated with shady dealings. Skirting the edge of legal and illegal activities, he had drifted from place to place. Now homeless, he had no place left to go but this nursing home in a Newark neighborhood so iffy, the only safe time for me to drop by was in the morning. The hospice social worker educated me that criminal types like to sleep in and get their day started in the afternoon. As it was, I saw a dense line of police cars just blocks away from the nursing home, primed for another tumultuous day.
      Some weeks later, during one of my last visits with Barney, I hazarded a reference to some Jewish songs and prayers. He was stunned that a prayer beginning with "Hear O Israel" (the most well-known Jewish prayer and referred to in Hebrew as "the Shema") sounded familiar. Hearing me talk about prayers he had not heard for decades, he was taken aback that they comforted him. "Funny how things come in a circle," he reflected. "I heard Hebrew when I was a little kid, and now," he made a face signifying that he did not have long to live, "I'm hearing about it again." He had come home to his Jewish heritage.
      At our last visit several weeks later, Barney was almost unconscious. The nurses on the morning shift said he was not responding anymore. But when I came in and said, "Hey doll!" he lifted his left brow and smiled ever so slightly before resuming his voyage onward in the untroubled waters. I sat with him awhile, thinking about my own penchant for flirting with the playful aspects of religion, and for having sought out a vocation that would be full of surprises at every turn.

      Karen B. Kaplan served as a hospice chaplain for seven years, working at United Hospice of Rockland in New York, and Princeton Hospice in New Jersey. Since then, her focus has shifted exclusively to writing. She has a published novella and numerous short stories and articles and teaches essay writing to ESL students at Hudson County Community College in Union City, NJ. She also heads The Angry Coffee Bean Café Writers' Group. Her next work is a collection of "Compassionate Science Fiction" short stories (this means no swords and no murderous robots).

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