First to know


... when conversations about living meet questions about dying

Tears began to slide silently down my face in this hot Madras airport where the sound of CNN competed with the whirr of the mounted rotating fans. People wiped their faces with dampened cloths. I had an amazing sense of privacy and anonymity in this crowd.

I took out my journal and spent the time writing of the years that Joe and I had spent together. . . At 3am, the hour of his death, I took off my wedding ring as a symbolic gesture. I shivered. My finger felt naked, strangely cold, with a band of skin more pale than the rest. But I felt ready to acknowledge, that what was, was, and what would be, would be. I felt at peace, with deep gratitude for what I’d had, and optimism for my life   ahead. [Excerpt from Before Forever After]

bfaWhat gets people talking about death in ways that make them feel more powerfully alive? Author Helena Dolny’s quest for an answer and belief that we need to talk about living and dying inspired an eight-year learning journey and resulted in Before Forever After, a fascinating and absorbing book that includes the stories of many ordinary people facing challenging circumstances as well as the likes of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, liberation struggle hero Joe Slovo and the iconic Nelson Mandela.

Dolny's journey took her from South Africa’s townships to the American mid-west; from a hospital bed in Lusaka, Zambia to Bellagio on the shores of Lake Como in Italy. Along the way she spoke to many people including Tutu, US healthcare pioneer Bernie Hammes and Ellen Goodman of Boston’s The Conversation Project.

Dozens of ordinary people also shared their extraordinary stories about living with clear intention and making profound choices about their last days. They discussed ritual, bereavement and planning for longevity. As she wrestled with what she heard, Dolny realised the markings that death had already left on her own life, and that though death and dying are frightening to contemplate, fear-filled silence is a life-denying state which will only drain us much more deeply.

The 57 stories contained within Before Forever After invite the reader to consider important questions. How do you want to live your life? Do you have secrets that might hurt loved ones following your death? What medical intervention do you want at the end of your life? What rituals matter to you?

This book and its rich cast of storytellers, while insightful, won’t always provide the answers. Instead, the gift that Before Forever After gives the reader is the ability to ask clearer and sharper questions regarding death and dying so that they may shape their own unique paths towards this fierce, fundamental and, above all, inevitable force of life.

Dolny explains what inspired her to write the book: “I wrote the book for my then 29 year-old-daughter who had experienced a death in her circle and asked me if I had something to read which might help her feel more at ease with our inevitable mortality. Searching my personal library and online, I could not find the book that I wanted to offer her. On a whim I sat down to write the outline of the book I’d wish to give to her. That was the beginning!”

Some of the main themes of the book include:

     The choices we make about how we want to live this earthly life.

     That even small nuggets of joy will make us want to carry on living even when life is hard and we’re very sick.

     That it’s important to think through our personal preferences concerning not only end-of-life choices but also the rituals that follow after death, and write them down and make them known.

     That in a modernising world we’re not engaging with death as our ancestors did and this may have a psychological cost, making bereavement more difficult.

     That longevity can be challenging, if accompanied by increasing frailty and diminishing income, and needs to be carefully thought about.

     That true love is about respecting other people’s choices especially when these differ from your own.


Helena DolnyHD

Helena Dolny was born in the north of England. Her parents were World War 2 refugees. She took a gap year after matric to do voluntary work at a mission station school in northern Zambia and travelled to South Africa on holiday. It was 1973, the era of high apartheid and a stark contrast to Kaunda’s postcolonial Zambia.

She returned to the UK for university studies and chose agricultural economics over literature and philosophy because she wanted practical skills of use in a developing country. She supported Southern African liberation organisations. She married a South African and in 1976 they moved to newly independent Mozambique where she worked with agricultural cooperatives for five years before becoming a lecturer. She assisted the African National Congress underground, and after her boss and mentor Ruth First was assassinated, she became an ANC member. In 1986, now divorced, Helena moved to Lusaka, Zambia to do a PhD on land markets and their relevance to land reform. She married First’s widower, struggle hero icon, Joe Slovo. In 1990 she was part of launching the ANC Land Commission. In 1995 she became advisor to Land Affairs Minister Derek Hanekom. In 1997 President Mandela appointed her as CEO of the Land Bank. She became intrigued by the “soft side” of change. This led to a career change and in 2005 she completed a Masters in Executive Coaching. She teaches at Henley Business School, has coaching clients in Johannesburg, Washington and Beijing and is currently the team coach to the Executive of Sustainable Energy for All headed by Rachel Kyte, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General.

An accomplished academic, this is Dolny's fourth book. She collated her late husband’s writings and Joe Slovo: The unfinished biography was published by Ravan Press in 1995. In 2001 Penguin published her Banking on Change, and in 2009 she edited Team Coaching: Artists at Work also published by Penguin.

For more information or an interview with Helena Dolny contact JAG Communications

Grant Bushby on or 076 494 4747

Janine Walker on or 083 600 9753