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What happens when you invite death along for the ride?

In her new book “Near the Exit,” Lori Erickson explores mortality at home and abroad

by Westminster John Knox Press | Special to Presbyterian News Service

Lori Erickson is author of the new Westminster John Knox Press book, “Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper.” (Contributed photograph)

Louisville — The same week her brother died unexpectedly, spiritual travel writer and Episcopal deacon Lori Erickson moved her mother into a memory-care facility. Suddenly faced with the existential question of death, she set out on a quest, her own tutorial in death.

Rather than exploring the five stages of grief or learning how to put together a living will, she wanted to understand how to truly live with death. “Each of us needs to find our own way through the thicket of speculation about our eventual deaths and what comes next, if anything,” she writes in her new book of spiritual travels, “Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper.” In places as far away as New Zealand and as nearby as the nursing home up the street, Erickson explores her experience with death and how cultures all around the world confront mortality.

In the Vatican necropolis, Erickson stood by what might be St. Peter’s bones and pondered how death surrounded the bright celebration of art and life in Rome. In New Zealand, she spent a week among the Maori who believe their ancestors walk among them. In Crestone, Colorado, she visited the only nondenominational, open-air cremation ground in the U.S. to learn about the elemental power of this final death ritual.

Throughout her travels, Erickson consulted with Zen monks, funeral directors, Maori elders, palliative care physicians, and a group of New Age enthusiasts who are certain they’ve lived before. Thought-provoking, informative, and amusing, Erickson writes that one of the most life-affirming things we can do is to invite death along for the ride.

“A helpful reminder that no one escapes this life alive, Lori Erickson’s ‘Near the Exit’ is a travel text and an act of religious exploration, presenting spiritual meditations from some of the holiest places on Earth,” says Foreword Reviews. “Showing how coping mechanisms and spiritual practices from around the world can be valuable for learning more about our own lives and eventual deaths, ‘Near the Exit’ is an ideal guidebook to facing the inevitable.”

In a starred review, Library Journal said, “This book’s journey to spiritual places near and far is worth taking.”

Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper” is available beginning Aug. 13 from Westminster John Knox Press.

Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She is the author of the memoir Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God, which was a finalist for the 2017 Travel Book of the Year INDIES Award from Foreword Reviews. She lives in Iowa City, Iowa, with her husband.

An interview with Erickson about “Near the Exit” can be seen here.


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