On Palm Sunday Broadstreeters gathered in Palmer Hall at 9:45 to talk about a challenging subject: Death and Dying. This was not a first run through; in the last 18 months we have addressed this topic at least four times. Each time the conversation has been nourishing, meaningful, and provocative.
On Palm Sunday, we focused on our desire to have honest conversations with our families about the reality of death and the process of dying. We identified some reasons it is hard to have such conversations:
- It’s easier to postpone the conversation for another day
- When we talk about death, we leave uncertainty behind
- Talking about death suggests that death may be imminent
- Talking about death is raw, emotional – and who needs that?
- We are uncomfortable with the topic
In all of our classes on the topic of death and dying we heard from experts* and each other that everyone benefits when such honest conversations take place. We explored the idea that the church might be well positioned to play a role in suggesting and hosting such conversations. At the heart of the Christian story is a story about life and death. The Bible acknowledges the reality of death and offers the promise of a life to come. Our confessions and creeds make the claim that in life and in death we belong to God. And death is a regular part of our life together as a community of faith. The church has a unique role in ushering a person from this life into the life to come.
At the Palm Sunday class we sought input around a modest proposal. What if the church were to offer to host family conversations about death? The request could come from any member of the church community. We would develop a standardized list of questions that could be shared. The person who requests the conversation can decide which family members they want to invite into the room. There would be no pre-determined outcome. The representative of the church would be present to invite conversation. That representative might be pastor, Stephen minister or medical professional.
We took a first run at the list of questions which could be explored at such a meeting.
- What is your understanding of what is happening to you?
- What do you believe about death? (not what you are supposed to believe but what do you actually believe)
- What is God’s role in our death and dying?
- What are your fears/worries about death and dying?
- What are your priorities if time runs short?
- What are you willing to sacrifice? What are you not willing to sacrifice?
- In the event that you became too sick to speak for yourself, who would you like to speak for you?
- What’s really important in your life?
We are sending out this email to get your input and counsel. What do you think of this idea of offering to host such conversations? What suggestions to you have? What questions would you add or delete or change?
May God grant us wisdom and courage as we continue this conversation as a community shaped by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
-Amy & Ann
*Atul Gawande’s book “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” has been an important resource