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.
Death Cafe January 30, 2019
By all measures, it was a wild success: thirty people in all, forming in two circles of fifteen to speak, listen, and learn about what they, and others think about death. We had students, elders, funeral directors, and clergy–all regular people running the gambit in age, profession and personality.
Thanks to my four co-hosts: Ali, Ken, Tylor and Nelson
Thanks to all the people who came to discuss and evolve in our understandings of our inevitable conclusion. The hosts did their job in making the space 'safe' for all voices to be heard - even the softest and to remind us all that what we sa is confidential...
RSVP for the next Death Cafe scheduled for March 27th, 2019
If you want to know more on what went on, please come to the next Death Cafe scheduled for March 27th, 2019. Consider an RSVP because we had to cap the last one, who are now first on the list. (info@GardenofChange.org)
Why I organized this Death Cafe?
Because when we avoid something (...like a conversation about death), we don't talk about it.
When we don't talk about it, we don't understand it.
When we don't understand something, we fear it.
And, fear is not a useful (or fun) operating system. Resilience is. Love is.
A synopsis by (surprisingly) Lao Tsu. (For me, it's like he was there...)
Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.
Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.
If you don't realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.
― Tao Te-Ching
Steve Jobs would not recognize his iPhone?
It’s a constant companion...and more about how we don’t pay attention to our world, which is suffering. iPhones or Androids we are an epidemic and we are addicted ...and not a good one to better our lives and health or our world.
Today in the New York Times, Cal Newport, a computer scientist who comments on how technology is affecting our culture, says “Mr. Jobs seemed to understand the iPhone as something that would help us with a small number of activities — listening to music, placing calls, generating directions. He didn’t seek to radically change the rhythm of users’ daily lives. He simply wanted to take experiences we already found important and make them better. The minimalist vision for the iPhone he offered in 2007 is unrecognizable today — and that’s a shame.”
He says, “the “constant companion model”... model changes what we pay attention to in the first place — often in ways designed to benefit the stock price of attention-economy conglomerates, not our satisfaction and well-being.”
He goes on to say that, ‘Many of us would be better off returning to his original minimalist vision for our phones.”
We live in a distracted culture...and it’s harming our world.
For sure. Our phones are like fire, they can destroy the important opportunities of the moment in front of you, or they can enhance it. They may even be another epidemic level dopamine addiction...as the neuroscientists have found.
I agree with Cal on this. Is how I use my phone enhancing my life and the lives of others or not? It’s an important question for us all.
As a hospice chaplain, I am awake to opportunities for a good end in this ultimate mystery (and accounting). Death keeps time and can elevate our constant companion and its “To do list”. It is about the ‘mindful’ or heart-full appreciation of the moment in front of us.
How I use my phone:
iPhone transporter in sound meditations -
I can take you to the woods to experience birds at dawn or a camp fire without anyone getting a mosquito bite or having accessibility issues.
Direct YouTube Spiritual support from the patient’s own clergy - Pastor, Priest, Guru, Mullah, Minister, etc
It is all there on the Internet. It is a daily miracle. I ‘performed' a full Catholic Mass for a woman who was actively dying and by all earthly measures not responsive. With my iPhone and Bose bluetooth speaker, I gave her a full hour and a half mass that rocked the assisted living facility. Knowing she was a devout Catholic, I could see it on her face that she was calmed. Her family was, too, and appreciated the respect I showed their beliefs. It is my job, but the iPhone is real miracle.
By the way, being a hospice chaplain, is not about changing anyone. I am not on a mission to force another’s version of the Divine under the wire of life and overwrite the patient’s own lively preferences. I offer their own faith back to them...Okay...maybe I weight providence and love in the self-reflective mirror. But it is their mirror.
Time traveling at bedside.
Taking patients back to their adolescent days with top popular tunes from their past - I can sit with a patient that is infirm, or even a dementia patient who no longer recognizes his or her own adult children, and have a conversation with them about their own childhood or simply bring a smile to their (previously gesture-less) face. Music happens like that.
Playlists as re-centering play
I use my own phone to make play lists of songs that lift me up; it is self care. Some songs have become inadvertent matras to me. I play them in the car on my way home (oh, the S.F. Bay Areas traffic....) I am better for it when I arrive. Music has the deep ability to take us up, or get us to calm down... or allow us to glimpse a world beyond the separations of our own skin into the greater world.
Learning by listening
Audible and the Kindle Fire’s ability to do Text to Speech has changed the size of my world. Hey, I am a slow reader. I usually fall asleep reading a paper book. I like the experiential (as in creating stuff). I have recently discovered a grand ability to remember and uptake creative and factual information when it is given aurally. (I was always really good in classrooms- who knew I learned by hearing so much better.)
Human and Unique. The Time is Now. ‘Be here Now’... with effective self- care
Or perhaps my parents were too distracted to read to me as a child...(I think most of us suffer from having merely human parents. Yes?) What is important now is that I take care of my life in a kind and loving way. This is caregiving too. It is sustainable caregiving as in a golden rule cycling round.
Don’t Get Lost
Waze, the navigation app that Google purchased a few years back left them oddly with their independence, too, is still here and legendary. It gets me there. It avoids traffic, adjusts to crashes, notes within seconds where the highway patrol are camping, even has red light camera alerts. It is way better than Apple or Google maps. (You just have to turn off all the little noisy icons you don’t want)
I would be handicapped in finding my way to patients if I did not have it. I don’t even want to think about that (NOTE: denial is sometimes a good thing.)
How do YOU use your phone ?...Does it make your world a more caring and loving place?
Because isn’t that what we are here to do?
’Steve Jobs Never Wanted Us to Use Our iPhones Like This’ By Cal Newport - NYT 1/27/2019
on a Chaplain's life