As a person who hails from a progressive liberal tradition from the prairie of Oklahoma, we cremated. Ceremony was focused on deeply personal memorial services and scatterings. The view in my faith tradition of my upbringing was that our mortal ‘ships' into which we are have been blessed to be embodied were not seen as particularly sacred.
As an interfaith chaplain in hospice now, I support people at the end of their tours, so to speak…at their last breath, I offer impromptu blessings and participatory offerings for those in attendance at the bedside of a patient who has just passed. I stay until the designated mortuary comes to pick up. An intimacy with the body at the end, is a “new radical’ (as in back to the root) idea of some EOL visionaries to counteract the dominant youth culture of devaluing elders. Unless the family asked me to “do” the service, I only follow up with the bereaved via my hospice bereavement responsibilities.
End of Life Ceremony better as a collaboration
I have recently taken a class by Dr. Alan Wolfelt called Creating Meaningful Funerals. The class was not what I expected. Here I will freely admit ignorance and lack of vision…to the opportunities of working together with mortuaries. I met many there that were interested & interesting funeral directors / staff who care quite deeply about ceremony, (do spiritual mischief…) and serve families. With regret and before this class, I thought of the service as my domain and my job (Hey, I'M THE chaplain...) I did not see funeral directors as partners in this.
The framework of Dr Wolfelt’s principles
about why we have had funerals ...since the beginning of human life (and ...ahem...death) is an effective way to have a conversation together - clergy and mortuary.
My views have expanded due to this class. Meeting so many who care deeply about ceremony and service. I see the mortuary now as potential partners, or would be partners in sending the ’ship’ off well-tended. I believe the general public might also have this same erroneous view.
I offer up my ignorance because I have an abundance of it, which I do not need… We are (always) stronger together. There were many stories in that class of antipathy with “bad” clergy (and some stories of beautiful collaborations, too).
Two things to counter the idea of disintermediation
of mortuaries (or ministers…) as they occur to me.
1. GREEN BURIAL
My interest in alternative ways to bury people (green) as growth opportunities for an industry in transition, It is happening to all of us - disintermediation. These new forms of burial could still have the performance criteria of this class - using ceremony’s elements & permanent memorialization but perhaps in a different way.
2. DEATH EDUCATION
Perhaps less disruptive to existing mortuary business models might be offerings in bereavement and death where any of my classmates might collaborate with their local communities and educate the locals, as I have been educated about the creativity of funeral directors etc. There is a new curiosity about death in my experience.
•Death Cafes (deathcafe.org) are popular in California…and are usually held in
mortuaries or libraries…or churches.
•Bereavement support for your families...
• Grief groups at your facilities etc.
NOTE: My next Death Cafe will be in San Francisco on March 27
Please see Events for more info. RSVP please.
My new commitment to survey and report on a variety of book categories has begun in earnest on two of my websites in my vast entrepreneurial enterprise, which is my end-of-life ministry. (This is tongue in cheek for those of you who do not know me personally - i.e. the vast bit not the earnest part...).
Reviews and Resources for healthcare chaplains here:
On this website, I have introduced Reviews and Resources for healthcare chaplains. I have also asked for contributions by other chaplains in my networks, as to what their favorite books are and will update the page each week, as time and inspiration moves me. There are some amazing books out there...and more coming out each day.
Sustainable Caregiver resources can be found at:
This selection of books are focused on the sons & daughters who are improvising survival (and sustenance) at the bedside of their family members. It is why and for whom I wrote my own book, as you know, if you are a regular reader.
Disclaimer: Both pages & sections are hopeful of Amazon Affiliate commissions. May blessed clicks support my shameless commerce.
NEW BOOK: Sounds like Katy Butler has a new EOL classic.
From the article today in the San Francisco Chronicle, she says all the right and true things that we as hospice & healthcare chaplains know in our bones:
"We influence our lives, but we don’t control them, and the same goes for how they end. No matter how bravely you adapt to loss and how cannily you navigate our fragmented health system, dying will still represent the ultimate loss of control.
But you don’t have to be a passive victim. You retain moral agency. You can keep shaping your life all the way to its end — as long as you seize the power to imagine, to arrange support and to plan."
Check out her events, if you are local:
Katy Butler is a former Chronicle reporter and the author of “The Art of Dying Well” (Scribner, 2019). She will be speaking at Book Passage in Corte Madera on Tuesday, Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland on Thursday, and Books Inc. in Opera Plaza in San Francisco on Friday, all at 7 p.m.
on a Chaplain's life