This past week I went to the second session of a three-part series on Death and Dying at my parish. The presenter was the woman who accompanies me to most of my medical appointments. She did an awesome address to a group of mostly elderly folks, talking about Kubler-Ross’ stages of dying for both the patient and the caregivers. She covered a variety of topics that helped people understand the process better. A co-presenter was ill that evening and so the parish pastor pinch-hit for a brief stint on preparing for the funeral.
I learned something in his sharing that made me incredibly excited. Lay people can lead prayer services! In an instant, I knew exactly what I wanted for myself. I had been debating about whether to proceed with this ritual and yet in my heart, a great desire for it exists. I have a group of lay people that I would happily hand over that piece of the puzzle with who would come up with something divinely inspired I believe with a wee bit of guidance from me. More and more people are opting out of prayers. Extra costs are involved with the event and the mourners then have double the grief to face. I however like to attend them and find them meaningful when done well. I like the idea of this specific circle of friends — in particular, lay women — leading an evening of prayers for me. I trust them to come up with a structure that works in collaboration with me prior to my death. Mourning is not easy on the heart but if an outlet is created for allowing those who remain to find meaning in the life of their loved ones, comfort can be found.
I also learned that the body can remain at the church if a secure place is available. Because this journey began in Assisi and because I have spent a lot of time in the chapel of the church complex, I smiled thinking that my coffin might spend hours before a replica of the cross of San Damiano that St. Francis prayed before in Assisi that hangs in our chapel. Something about that image seems sacred to me and feels like the completion of a circle.
I am beginning to seriously make some end-of-life decisions. I want some input into my celebration of life without completely removing others from the occasion. When I think about my prayers, I see it as a more intimate celebration than a larger funeral. Both the funeral and the prayers will bring together all of my worlds–Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, seekers, and non-believers. The prayers may be more inclusive than the funeral because there will probably not be the Eucharist. I have a desire for all to feel welcome at both celebrations.
I want songs that are meaningful to me to be sung by people I know. Scripture readings will need to encourage and comfort those who remain. Besides the eulogy at the funeral, I believe some sharing of who I am at the prayers will be helpful. I remember being one of three speakers at the prayers for a beloved former pastor. People can laugh at the memories and weep for their loss, whatever they need to do. A simple beauty and peaceful ambience is what I imagine.
I suppose some will find this morbid but the reality is that as a single person some decisions need to be made and not all of them can wait until I am gone. My church community is important to me and has sustained me for three decades. This family seems to be the perfect ones to bless me and pray for my soul the night before my funeral. I look forward to planning ahead.
Have you thought about what you desire for your celebration of life?
How much involvement do you want in creating a ritual for your funeral?
Creator, as your creature, I do not want to cling to this life. When the time comes, may we celebrate well a life lived with passion and joy as an ode to you and your great mercies. Amen.