Reader Notes

This book is recommended reading for medical professionals and anyone who is interested in learning more about how the doctor/patient relationship can be strengthened through compassionate care.

Recommended Audience

This book is recommended for adults.



When neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Stern’s sister, Victoria, was diagnosed with leukemia, it turned his world upside down – both personally and professionally.

In his book, Grief Connects Us: A Neurosurgeon’s Lessons on Love, Loss, and Compassion, Dr. Stern invites us on the journey through his sister’s illness and death, eloquently capturing the hope, uncertainty and heartbreak experienced by so many families when faced with the terminal illness of a loved one. The incorporation of Victoria’s journal entries throughout the text gives the reader additional insight into not only her renewed bond with her brother, but also her own fears and vulnerability. Throughout, a strong thread of hope weaves throughout their individual experiences, further strengthening their relationship and, ultimately, connecting them in their grief.

Dr. Stern thoughtfully describes how his own experience transformed the way he approaches the doctor/patient relationship, an approach that is deeply rooted in compassion and understanding. Supported by interviews with other medical professionals and patients, Dr. Stern explores how the medical profession can best support patients and their families with compassion without inhibiting their ability to provide expert medical care. He also addresses how medical professionals themselves can benefit from grieving the deaths of their patients.

Dr. Stern’s perspective is one from which we can all benefit – whether we’re medical professionals, a patient or the family member or friend of someone who is ill.

Discussion Prompts

Use the following discussion prompts to engage in a book club discussion with others, or for you own personal reflection. Additional questions can be found on Dr. Stern’s website:

For Non-medical Professionals

  1. Reflect on a time when you, a family member or friend was ill. Describe your experience working with the medical team. What did you appreciate? What do you wish had been different about how you interacted?
  2. Do you have, or have you had, a doctor who shares/d Dr. Stern’s philosophy regarding mindful compassion when working with families and patients? How did that experience compare to your interactions with other medical professionals?
  3. How might a medical professional’s approach to working with families and patients affect the patient’s ability to either heal or have a “good death?”
  4. How might a medical professional’s interactions with a patient’s family and friends help them begin to grieve the loss of their loved one?

For Medical Professionals

  1. Consider your own doctor/patient relationships. Can you relate to Dr. Stern’s experiences and philosophy on incorporating more mindful compassion in those relationships?
  2. After reading the book, are you inspired to make any changes in how you interact with patients and their families?
  3. Have you experienced the illness or death of a close family member or friend? If so, did it affect how you interact with families and patients now? What was the result? What, if any, changes did you notice in how families responded?
  4. How might a medical professional’s interactions with a patient’s family and friends help them begin to grieve the loss of their loved one?
  5. How might you achieve a balance between providing compassionate care and maintaining objectivity so you can do your job to the best of your ability?

About the Reviewer

This book was read and is recommended by the Remembering A Life team.