In the Christian practice of dying well, Christian people do things with and for one another in response to God’s strong love, translating into concrete acts our belief in the resurrection of Christ, and of ourselves.
Here, at the very edges of life, the practices of the community can proclaim what we most need to hear: that even in death, we are not alone.
Dying in its embrace, we are confident that after we die, the church will gather to celebrate our life and mourn our passing, and confident that the community will care for our family through prayers, visits, and generous hospitality.
With the assurance that not even death will separate us from God’s love, we can dare to nurture the Christian practices that will help each of us to embody God’s mercy to one another while we live and then, when it is time, to die well.
Play charades. Act out euphemisms about death or dying you have heard (kick the bucket, wasted, croaked, passed on, etc.). What do these euphemisms tell us about our attitudes towards death? Which euphemisms about death and dying are difficult to act out? Why?
Compose a prayer about death and dying. Write the word “death” in the middle of a chalkboard or a piece of newsprint. Free-associate words that connect to the word death. Write those words all around the central word “death”, connecting them with lines to the center. As the words begin to pile up, use the “satellite” words to free-associate with yet more words, both verbs and nouns. When the paper or chalkboard begins to fill up, stop the free-association, and begin using the words generated to create a prayer. First choose one or two of the words as an address to God (it could even be “God who is close by us in death” or “Life-giving God”, or “Great Mystery”). After the address, use the words to describe action that God has done, to express thanks, to make a confession, to petition God, to promise our faithfulness, or any combination of the above. Rearrange the phrases as you see fit. Close the prayer with “Amen”. Share the prayer with your family, pastor, friends or others you think might benefit from your prayer.
Read aloud one or two psalms of lament (Psalm 22, 42-43, 60, 88, 129, 137). Allow the appropriate portions of the psalm to evoke despair and anger, raw intensity of emotion. What needs to heal in you from the emotions these psalms evoked? Who can you talk to about your grief and loss?
Read through the funeral service(s) in your church’s book of worship. What elements of lament, hope, judgment and mercy do you see? Compose a memorial service for yourself. What scripture passages, hymns, prayers, and rituals would you include in your own service?
Things to do for someone who has lost a family member or friend:
- Go visit the person who is grieving.
- Make and send a card or a picture frame.
- Bake cookies for a family with children, or offer to babysit.
- Help serve a family dinner provided by the church at a funeral service.
- Rake leaves, wash windows, mow the lawn.
- Plan a fund-raiser to assist with medical expenses for a family that has experienced great medical expenses.
Things not to say. What words or phrases were not helpful to you when a loved one died? For example, “It was God’s will.” “God wanted him in heaven.” “She’s in a better place.” What else can you think of that may be said with good intentions but is actually quite harmful?
Plan Your Funeral Service. Work with the pastor to plan your funeral service. What music do you want to sing? What scripture passages express your faith and life? Who do you want to speak? Where will you be buried? What funeral home will assist the church/pastor in the burial?