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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.
~ 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
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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