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Final Crossing: Learning to Die in Order to Live

The Final Crossing: Learning to Die in Order to Live is a new book by Dr. Scott Eberle, Medical Director, Hospice of Petaluma. “This book is itself a rite of passage. Extraordinary insights shared by two remarkable people, one dying, the other the inner life and decisions of the physician and friend attending this fine fellow preparing to head into death. This is the best work of its sort I have come across. There are so many levels, so many books in this book that it might well become a teaching text in many classrooms.” Stephen Levine, author of Who Dies?, Healing into Life and Death, and A Year to Live

About The Final Crossing-Learning to Die in Order to Live
To be blessed in death, one must learn to live.
To be blessed in life, one must learn to die.
– medieval prayer

“The River Styx isn’t far ahead. When it’s time for the final crossing, doc, I want you there at the helm.” Hearing these words from Steven Foster, hospice physician Scott Eberle unhesitatingly responded, “I give you my word, Steven. If it’s within my powers, I’ll be there.” In a matter of weeks, Foster would be dead, having succumbed to a genetic lung disease at the young age of 64.

Steven Foster and his wife, Meredith Little, were together for nearly thirty years, dedicating their lives to bringing meaningful wilderness rites of passage back into the modern world. Working first with youth and later with older adults, they taught many people how to mark a major life transition, helping them “to die” symbolically that they might be “reborn” into a new life. Along the way, they “touched thousands and thousands of people. Changed lives in a very big way.” Scott Eberle was one of those people.

As Eberle recounts in this new book, “For [Steven Foster], life had always been about brutal honesty and fierce attachment. No borders, no boundaries. Whatever came his way, he would open to it, grasp at it, and come to know it—with all the passion he could muster. At times, this urgency to know led him to stare at the sun for a little too long. More than once he seared his retinas, but he also saw glorious sights that many of us will never know. His approach to death would be no different . . . For him, death was . . . both the inevitable outcome and the ultimate measure of his life.”

And Eberle had his own internal battle: how to be both Foster’s doctor and his student and friend? After working as an end-of-life physician for nearly two decades and as a wilderness guide for several years, Eberle had learned that “while symbolic dying and literal dying are obviously not the same, they are deeply connected.” Having explored that connection within his own life, he then went to Foster’s bedside to help this man do the same.

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