Review: The Soul Sitter’s Handbook

May 11, 2015 | 0 comments

Soul Sitter's Handbook covIf there’s a family member on hospice, before that terminally ill person dies, The Soul Sitter’s Handbook: What to do when your loved one is dying can be a great resource for both the family and the patient.

Written by Stacey Canfield with Candace Conradi, The Soul Sitter’s Handbook provides sensitive guidelines on how to be present and supportive in the face of the dying process. The book is an outgrowth of an online community ( that helps people move from anxiety to confidence while dealing with life transitions and loss. A revised version of the book will be released this summer.

People are afraid of death and being around the dying. They are afraid they will say or do something wrong. The authors introduce an acronym called STEPS to help individuals be fully present when interacting with the dying. STEPS stands for:

  • Smile – Even if you have fear, a smile can open hearts and minds. Practice smiling before walking into the dying person’s room.
  • Touch – Canfield and Conradi say that science has proven a safe touch is the most important gift we can offer. A light touch on the hand or forearm can help the patient feel comfortable and loved.
  • Eye Contact – Making eye contact breaks down barriers, allows your heart to open and see and feel the person differently. It can offer the dying person an emotional charge of love, acceptance and compassion.
  • Patience – Canfield and Conradi write, “Humans are, for lack of a better word, a squirming lot; if we are not squirming in body then we are squirmy in mind. The reaction of squirming is simply a manifestation of our discomfort and results in impatience.” They offer breathing techniques to build up one’s “patience muscles.”
  • Service – Being of service to the dying person and/or the family is the ultimate form of kindness. Service can be large or small: from providing caretaking to running errands. “We all have gifts and abilities, and the ordinary things we already know how to do become extraordinary acts of kindness when we do them for others,” writes Canfield.

The book looks at how the a death of a loved one propels mourners to what the authors call “white space on the map” – unknown and unexpected emotional reactions. These emotional experiences offer significant personal growth potential. The authors sketch out Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ Five Stages, the emotional reactions many patients or families experience in response to loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

The Soul Sitter’s Handbook offers a creative way to start meaningful conversations around the deathbed. Canfield created the Miracle Dialogue Deck of cards to help fill the communications gap. The cards have questions that prompt conversations so people can get to know each other better. The deck is available as a free download from

As an after-care resource, Canfield offers the Positive Grief Method. She believes there really is such a thing as healthy sadness. Her approach is to create a meaningful symbol of the person who is dying and use it to calm emotions and foster positive memories. For example, she shares how cowboy boots and the smell of leather activates positive memories of her dad and any tube of red lipstick reminds her of a beloved grandmother.

In the face of a serious illness or loss, The Soul Sitter’s Handbook can provide the courage to think more clearly, make wise choices and connect with loved ones, both the living and dying.

The 94-page book is available at in paperback and ebook formats.

Gail Rubin, funeral expert and Celebrant

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®

Gail Rubin, CT, The Doyenne of Death®, is a Certified Thanatologist – a death educator – and Certified Funeral Celebrant. A pioneering Death Café hostess, she is author and host of the award-winning book, TV and radio programs A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. She created Mortality Minute radio spots and co-authored the free eBook, Celebrating Life: How to Create Meaningful Memorial Services, with Templates and Tips.

A Good Goodbye