Updated: Nov 9
LORD, let me know my end and the number of my days, * so that I may know how short my life is. -Psalm 39:5, BCP
Dear Friends in Christ,
We often avoid discussing or thinking practically about our own death. But doing so is an enormous blessing for ourselves and especially for those whom we leave behind. In fact, we recently found such an exercise filled with laughter and lightness.
In October, we held a workshop called “Holy Living, Holy Dying,” and we gave a summary recap of the workshop in Sunday School last Sunday. The name was inspired by the classic Anglican writings by Jeremy Taylor in the 1600s. They were both manuals for Christian living, and theological reflections on our lives. This was true for our workshop: about planning wills, funerals, Advanced Directives and end-of life care, and also about looking at all these issues through God’s eyes: seeing the life that God gives us and responding in good stewardship of our lives and our relationships.
The value of life
We see that our lives have value, not from being productive, nor from being happy, nor from being clear-headed or able-bodied, nor successful, nor from being good (we are often not). Our lives have value because God loves us, and all those other goods pale in comparison to God’s love for us! So, we value human life. We do not seek death nor seek to hasten death. We do seek to relieve suffering, as Jesus did. But Jesus’ compassion was also co-suffering (the roots of the word compassion), embracing our human life, sharing in our human frailty and suffering, and in our human death. While we seek to relieve suffering, we do not fear suffering. And while we do not seek death, we are not afraid of death. For Jesus gives us victory over suffering and sin and death, and our lives are greater even than a long life lived on this earth.
So, we need not fear talking about our own frailty and mortality. Advanced Directives can set to writing the kind of care you want in a medically terminal situation. This might be different for different people and at different ages and stages of life. Nothing is perfectly predictable in medicine, so we give these directives some thought and prayer. Establishing a Health Care Power of Attorney is important—and discussing kinds of care with that person as well. Situations don’t have to be terminal in order to be difficult. The same is true for finances and a financial Power of Attorney. Equip your POA with a better understanding of your own discernment about what God wants for you in your care and finances.
Palliative Care and Hospice Care
We discussed Palliative Care and Hospice Care. Palliative Care works in conjunction with standard medicine but specializes in pain management. It overlaps in some ways with Hospice care, but Hospice is only for those with a doctor’s prognosis of less than six months to live. Thus, Hospice does not labor for a cure, but for comfort as someone declines. They give fantastic care, and support the family and friends too. Talk with your family about your care.
Planning and conversations
Especially younger adults need to have these discussions, so that their families and friends might be better equipped to respond just in case injury or death comes at a much earlier age than expected. Part of this is good stewardship of our possessions and providing for our family if we were to die. We leave a will to be clear to the state and to our heirs and to avoid leaving a mess behind. We use financial instruments such as life insurance and retirement accounts and other resources that name beneficiaries to care for our loved ones.
Planned giving can be a way to support family or church or charitable organizations when you die. This could be as simple as a dollar amount or percentage given. Or you could structure a gift for specific circumstances. If you are regularly generous to an organization such as the church, your death can leave a large impact. If you make a planned gift, that gift can ease the transition for the church. A lump sum could be given, or given to an endowment to produce investment income for operations. Or a sum could be divided and given in reducing amounts over ten years, to help the organization adjust to the loss.
Blessings in the details
When you plan for Holy Dying, the more detail you can consider, the greater blessing you provide for your heirs. This is true even if you have no heirs. I’ve known single people estranged from family who have been hard to help in their last days and after, because we had no plans or wills or instructions. These instructions should include wills, but also what accounts do you have? What are their passwords? Who are the people who need to be notified? What domestic or commercial relationships need to be completed or notified if you were to die? Who really wants your stuff and what stuff do they really want? Beware assumptions—have the conversation; it will be a blessing. Without some instructions, survivors often have a daunting puzzle to solve at a time of deep grief.
Funerals and Holy Dying
And finally, what requests do you have about your funeral and where your remains are to be interred? The clergy can help you with planning these things and keeping them on file at the church. We have been through this before, and we have materials that you can use to help you plan for all these things.
In the end, we know that death is not the end. There is so much that we do not know about heaven. We know that we do not turn into angels when we die, nor do we acquire super powers to do miracles or haunt our families. We know that in Christ, we are gathered to the Father, and we await, with the church expectant, the final resurrection, where God will make all things new.
At our workshop, we ended up with laughter and joy, playing games in the face of our mortality, knowing that in Christ Holy Living is part of Holy Dying, and Holy Dying is part of Holy Living. God bless you with both in the days ahead.
Yours in Christ,