It is incredible how light and even funny the topic of death can be. Not when someone has died, or when one is visiting someone who may die soon.
But when people who, mostly aren’t considering their own deaths are in a room at church! — like last Sunday, April 3 after worship for Session 2 — but are considering the topic of death. The second session was again well-attended and engaging. People couldn’t quite stop talking when one item was finished, and we needed to move to the next.
In the beginning, people were invited to share what the tradition gives them that makes death easier. And often the conversation tended to focus on funeral practices and family rituals, including memories, more than, for example, the promise of eternal life or God’s presence even in the shadowed valleys. In some sense, this might be because until the end of our own lives, we are looking to faith and custom to help us with someone else’s death.
But Amy D. pointed out interestingly that in her experience as a hospice chaplain, overt theology about an afterlife or God’s presence is often more the concern of the family gathered bedside around a loved one, than the person at the end of her or his life. In the conversations after Amy’s insight, it seemed that many people, if they could just find the crack through which to look towards their own death for a brief moment, experience some fear. While we are reminded by Jesus over and over to fear not, it was not so evident that we listen or follow this advice very well! But there seemed to be a point in acknowledging a common fear, even if we keep it mostly denied.
Michael presented the findings of an EMT worker whose experience suggests that many people facing the end of their lives need one or more of three assurances:
~ a promise that we will be remembered,
~ to know their lives had meaning.
We talked in plenary about how our religious tradition tries to provide for all those needs being met. We came up with the most concrete ideas around being remembered — tombstones, obituaries, All Saints Day. We were a bit more amorphous about forgiveness and meaning, as both are central promises of our faith, but there were not necessarily concrete examples, like confession that a Catholic priest might offer to the dying.
(This part of the session left Michael wondering if one could do a study, would Christians have less trouble with these kinds of questions?)
We closed with “funny funeral stories” — and heard some great ones — with an eye towards beginning to think about what we wish for our own funerals. Everyone was asked to say one single word that they hope would apply to their own funerals — something to be included or a description of the mood, etc. (There will be another session, next fall, where we will actually work though how yoy want your funeral and what you want done with your body, etc.)
We were done by 2 pm. And we will gather again on Sunday, May 1 after worship, when we will have the first of two sessions on how medicine gives us more life and sometimes makes it harder to die. Please join us for that session.