For I am sure that
neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in
creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in
Christ Jesus our Lord.
Are you able to
contemplate your death and the death of those closest to you? Accepting the
fact of death, we are freed to live more fully.
from Philadelphia and the Jerseys Yearly Meeting,
1694–1695 by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1997
There are two
different aspects of preparing for death; the first is preparing for one's own
death, and the second is preparing for the death of another—whether a beloved
friend, or even a stranger—preparing in such a way as to be of greatest comfort
and support for those who mourn, including yourself.
Preparation for Death,
a handbook by Tempe Monthly Meeting
Knowing how quickly many are removed by death, it is
weightily recommended, that care be taken by each monthly meeting, that Friends
who have estates to dispose of, be advised to make their wills in time of
health, and strength of judgment, and therein to direct their substance as in
justice and wisdom may be to their satisfaction and peace; laying aside all
resentment, though occasion may have been given, lest it should go with them to
the grave; remembering we all stand in need of mercy and forgiveness. Making
such wills in due time can shorten no one's days, but the omission, or delay
thereof to a time of sickness, when the mind should not be diverted from a
solemn consideration of the approaching awful period of life, has often proved
very injurious to many, and been the occasion of creating animosities in
families, which the seasonable performance of this necessary duty might have
effectually prevented.—1691, 1703.
Friends are earnestly recommended to employ persons
skilful in the law, and of good repute, to make their wills, as great
inconvenience and loss, and sometimes the ruin of families have happened
through the unskilfulness of some who have taken upon them to write wills,
being unqualified to act in a matter of such importance. And all Friends who
may become executors or administrators are advised to make a full, clear and
perfect inventory of the estate and effects of the deceased, early after the
interment, as many difficulties and disputes have arisen, and sometimes
injustice been done for want of it, or by deferring it too long. —1782, 1801
from “Wills”, The Rules of Discipline of Philadelphia
Yearly Meeting, from The Old Discipline
Approach old age
with courage and hope. As far as possible, make arrangements for your care in good time, so that an undue burden does not fall on
others. Although old age may bring increasing disability and loneliness, it can
also bring serenity, detachment and wisdom.
from Philadelphia and the Jerseys Yearly Meeting
1694–1695 by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, 1997
The contemplation of our
own death requires us to face and accept our mortality, grieve actively all our
losses, and, through a review of our life, uncover and complete the unfinished
business of forgiveness and reparation.
Death is no
more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.
William Penn, 1693
I have arrived. I am at home in the here and in the
I am solid, I am free. In the infinite I dwell.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Guide to Walking Meditation, 1985
The catastrophic and
devastating losses we suffer may occur at any time. We try to prepare ourselves
in ways both practical and spiritual for what we know may come, yet we
recognize that we cannot always foresee the time of their coming.
Death may cut life short at any time. Not every danger can be foreseen. We
do not expect accidents; nor the untimely loss of the young; nor even the death
of those who knowingly place themselves at risk in war, in care of the
diseased, or in other perilous situations. What we can do is foster an
ever-present readiness in spirit for whatever may come.
experiences have, ideally, made us sensitive to the varieties of suffering that
occur throughout life, and can, again ideally, help us make meaning of death
and the diminishments that occur with aging. This sensitivity also allows us to
release all that we love. Loss of independence—when we have to stop
driving, leave our homes, or accept basic care for ourselves, for
instance—strikes hard. Chronic pain or life-threatening illness challenges us
utterly. Together Friends may help us deal with many losses—our dreams and
hopes, our mobility, our sight or hearing, our memory and mental acuity.
for death and loss is ongoing, modeled by wise elders and sometimes by children
as well as in literature, music, and art. Much excellent material exists
on preparation for death, dying, and bereavement, but the support of caring
Friends is most valuable. A loving presence or practical offer of help matters
more than eloquent words. Feelings of inadequacy should not keep us away from
the dying and the bereaved.
Considering that the
extraordinary medical advances of our time may sometimes extend life beyond our
wishes, Friends are advised, as the end of life approaches, to consider ways of
making their death their own. Worldly preparation for death includes legal and
financial decisions such as wills, ethical wills, bequests, and powers of
attorney for financial and health-care decisions. Couples, especially
same-gender couples, who are not married in the eyes of the law are at special
risk and need to take extra care that their legal papers reflect their wishes
about end of life decision making and finances. Single people living alone may
consider appointing a concerned Friend to look after and advocate for their
interests and should make sure this person is aware of their wishes and knows
the location of all relevant documents. Because death may come at any time, care should be taken by all adults,
particularly those with children or those who place themselves at risk for
conscience’s sake, to make and communicate such decisions in a timely fashion.
It is important that these decisions not be made under the influence of
depression or chronic pain. Housing issues include how and when to move from
independent to assisted living, to skilled nursing or home care, and finally to
hospice. Friends may want to consider the choice between burial or cremation
and may have joined a memorial society to preserve the most simplicity possible
at the time of death. We may also wish to donate our bodies to research or our
usable organs for reuse.
Blessed are they
that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
For ourselves, our own
death is a transition; for those who love us, it is a deep loss.
In bereavement, give yourself time to grieve, recognizing
that in some sense, grief for the loss of a loved one never ends. When others
mourn, let your love embrace them.
It is important to
realize that grief does not follow any particular pattern and that each person
handles grief in his or her own way. The ways and the times grief manifests
itself are often surprising. Support to the bereaved from individual Friends
and the meeting may need to continue well beyond the initial period of bereavement.
Bereaved children may need special attention and opportunities to express their
grief—through art, journals, and special storybooks, for example.
of Meetings to the Aging, the
Dying, and the Bereaved
The monthly meeting
Ministry & Oversight Committee or a special committee for
Pastoral Care or specifically for Death & Bereavement may take on
as appropriate these tasks in support of aging, dying, and bereaved Friends:
- Making the meeting space safe, comfortable,
accessible, and with modifications for hearing and low vision.
- Providing for ongoing involvement in the
meeting. Types of assistance may include rides to meeting, phone checks,
visits, or occasional worship at their site.
- Discerning the need to revise or end the ill
or aging person's level of meeting work.
- Coordinating visitation; helping with life
tasks, financial aid, or transportation.
- Considering the formation of a Pastoral Care
Committee if Ministry & Oversight Committee becomes
- Providing support for the dying,,the
bereaved, or others in need, with referrals to qualified professionals as
necessary. Clearness committees could also be provided for adult children
of aging parents who may be resisting making the necessary decisions.
with the planning and holding of a memorial meeting (see below).
ongoing or occasional worship sharing sessions or discussions on the
topics of awareness of our mortality, the stages of grief, legal and
financial matters, memorial societies, organ or body donation, and the
many eventualities of end-of-life planning.
- Adding to the meeting library any locally
relevant legal materials and community resource lists as well as
appropriate books on end of life and bereavement, including materials for
- Storing records of wills, last wishes,
contacts, and other relevant information. Records clerks are often
appointed by monthly meetings to annually update such records.
Friends usually hold a memorial
meeting—a meeting for worship on the occasion of death—at a suitable time and
In planning this event, the responsible committee consults the wishes of the
family and those of the deceased Friend if these are on record. The memorial
meeting is for those left behind and is encouraged.
A committee appointed by the
meeting traditionally prepares, often in consultation with the bereaved, a
memorial minute, separate from an obituary, which will be read at the memorial
meeting. A Friend, usually from the Ministry & Oversight Committee,
notifies the local newspapers and distant friends and relatives of the time and
place of the event. The meeting provides the venue and adequate seating.
It is usual for the clerk or other Friend to give a brief introduction
explaining Quaker memorial customs, especially if the gathering includes many
non-Friends. After all who wish to have spoken out of the silence and the
memorial minute has been read, the meeting comes to a close and refreshments
are served by the Hospitality Committee or volunteers.
The memorial minute is sent promptly to the clerk of Intermountain Yearly
Meeting for distribution and reading in the meeting for worship for memorials
held during the yearly meeting session. It should also be forwarded to Friends
Bulletin and other such publications as seem appropriate.
Monthly meetings may
also hold occasional memorial meetings in which Friends speak about and honor
all those for whom they grieve, and for all they have lost, both within and
outside of their own circle of Friends.
Some meetings have a handbook (see References section).
See form, Appendix 5.
Meetings may be well advised to locate suitable potential locations for
memorial meetings in advance of any particular member’s death.