Winner of a Gold Nautilus Award
“We can do extraordinary things when we lead with love,” Barbara Becker reminds us in her debut memoir Heartwood.
When her earliest childhood friend is diagnosed with a terminal illness, Becker sets off on a quest to immerse herself in what it means to be mortal. Can we live our lives more fully knowing some day we will die?
With a keen eye towards that which makes life worth living, Barbara Becker—a perpetual seeker, a mom, and an interfaith leader—recounts stories where life and death intersect in unexpected ways. She volunteers on a hospice floor, becomes an eager student of the many ways people find meaning at the end of life, and accompanies her parents in their final days.
Becker inspires readers to live with the end in mind and proves that turning toward loss rather than away from it is the only true way to live life to its fullest. Just as with the heartwood of a tree—the central core that is no longer alive yet supports the newer growth rings—the dead become an enduring source of strength to the living.
With life-affirming prose, Becker helps us see that that grief is not a problem to be solved, but rather a sacred invitation—an opportunity to let go into something even greater…a love that will inform all the days of our lives.
Barbara Becker has dedicated more than twenty-five years to partnering with human-rights advocates around the world in pursuit of peace and interreligious understanding. She has worked with the United Nations, Human Rights First, the Ms. Foundation for Women, and the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, and has participated in a delegation of Zen Peacemakers and Lakota elders in the sacred Black Hills of South Dakota. She is an ordained interfaith minister and has sat with hundreds of people as a hospice volunteer. She lives in New York City with her husband and two sons.
"In Heartwood, Barbara Becker inspires us to follow our curiosity into a world that is both universal and a source of our uniqueness. And what could be better than that?"—Gloria Steinem, bestselling author and activist
“Death fascinates and repels us. Barbara Becker has written a gorgeous book about it, and her writing will draw in everyone who is willing to approach the most serious topic we all must face. Becker gives the reader empathic access to some of life’s peak moments, along with insights into life’s biggest questions."
-Jonathan Haidt, Professor, NYU-Stern School of Business, author of The Righteous Mind
"Heartwood is a luminous book...Within the first few pages I knew I could trust Barbara Becker to navigate the holy land of death and grief and take me with her...I have rarely read a book that left me feeling so fundamentally blessed. Highly recommended."
—Mirabai Starr, author of Caravan of No Despair and Wild Mercy
“Both tear-jerking and joyful, Heartwood reveals how an intimate conversation with loss can bring forth the ‘forever’ possible through love. Across time zones, generations, and cultural divides.”
—Sarah Bowen, author of Spiritual Rebel: A Positively Addictive Guide to Finding Deeper Perspective and Higher Purpose
"A powerful and exquisite book on being with dying and learning from loss that is written from the marrow of real experience and as well from the heart. It is a courageous exploration of grief, death, and release. This is a book that uplifts, instructs, inspires, and guides." - Roshi Joan Halifax, Abbot, Upaya Zen Center
“Heartwood is wise and moving without a wasted word. Becker’s luminous meditation on death and life is a gift to us all."—Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps
“Heartwood is a gem.”—Dr. Denis Mukwege, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, author of forthcoming The Power of Women: Learning from Resilience to Heal Our World
"Becker takes us on a poignant journey through her life in "Heartwood". She shows us the threads connecting herself to ones who passed and with each tug on a thread we learn more about love and loss, life and death. Precious stories that have the power to move your heart, this book is a true gift.—Sharon Salzberg, author of Real Love and Real Change
“Becker debuts with a stirring chronicle of the events, moments, and stories that led to her reconciliation with mortality…Becker’s eloquence is a salve for confronting a difficult topic…This will be a comfort for anyone contemplating their own mortality, or those in search of advice for others.”—Publishers Weekly Starred Review
"A graceful meditation on divine deliverance...Once firmly entrenched in our “death-shy” contemporary culture, the author is now a reassuring advocate for peace and interreligious understanding, and she views dying as an opportunity to seek enlightenment and give thanks, regardless of one’s preferred spiritual path." - Kirkus
"A resource filled with wisdom and one that readers will find themselves returning to often in both good times and bad." - Shelf Awareness
"An affecting and informative memoir about the lessons we can glean from life as well as death." - Library Journal