Dying Well - Ways to Practice - Ideas

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things
present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all
creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

— Romans 8:38-39

•   Play charades. Act out euphemisms about death or dying you have heard (kick the bucket, wasted, croaked, passed on, etc.). What do these euphemisms tell us about our attitudes towards death? Which euphemisms about death and dying are difficult to act out? Why?

•   On the Sunday nearest All Saints' Day, plan a ritual in which the names of those who have died within in the past year are read aloud, with a pause for remembrance, the lighting of a candle, and then a congregational response.

•   Appoint a task force to establish a memorial garden adjacent to your church building. Tour local cemeteries or visit other churches and memorials to collect ideas for memorializing people who have died.

•   Build a memorial wall to commemorate All Soul's Day (November 2). Borrowing from the idea of the Vietnam War Memorial, embellish paper or ceramic blocks and write a deceased person's name on a block along with the date and age of the person's death, and cause of death, if known. Decorate with pictures or words about the person's interests or hobbies.

•   Compose a prayer about death and dying. Use this group method: write the word "death" in the middle of a chalkboard or a piece of newsprint. Ask participants to free-associate words that connect to the word death. Write those words all around the central word "death", connecting them with lines to the center. As the words begin to pile up, use the "satellite" words to free-associate with yet more words, both verbs and nouns. When the paper or chalkboard begins to fill up, stop the free-association, and begin using the words generated to create a prayer together. First choose one or two of the words as an address to God (it could even be "God who is close by us in death" or "Life-giving God", or "Great Mystery"). After the address, use the words to describe action that God has done, to express thanks, to make a confession, to petition God, to promise our faithfulness, or any combination of the above. Rearrange the phrases as you see fit. Close the prayer with "Amen". Present this group prayer to your pastor or worship committee for use in congregational worship.

•   Research possibilities for keeping funerals in the hands of the family or faith community. Can someone make a simple casket or shroud? Is it possible to bury the deceased in a family plot? What local burial laws or customs help or impede dying well? Who could take what role - creating a memorial service, building the casket, providing the land, sewing the burial clothes, making the songs - in your family/community?

•   Read aloud one or two psalms of lament (Psalm 22, 42-43, 60, 88, 129, 137). Allow the appropriate portions of the psalm to evoke despair and anger, raw intensity of emotion. If you can find a musical version of the psalm, sing it. Or sing African-American spirituals that are laments (Calvary, I'm just a poor wayfarin' stranger, Were you there?).

•   Read through the funeral service(s) in your church's book of worship. What elements of lament, hope, judgment and mercy do you see? Compose a memorial service for yourself. What scripture passages, hymns, prayers, and rituals would you include in your own service?

•   Introduce older children and youth to the structure and procedures of a funeral service. Tour a funeral home and arrange for conversation with a funeral home director. Use bulletins from a recent funeral service to examine the order of worship.

•   If you are called to sit by the bedside of someone who is dying, speak the prayers and sing the songs on that person's behalf, if they are too weak to do so.

•   Things to do for someone who has lost a family member or friend:
- Go visit the person who is grieving.
- Make and send a card or a picture frame.
- Bake cookies for a family with children, or offer to babysit.
- Help serve a family dinner provided by the church at a funeral service.
- Rake leaves, wash windows, mow the lawn.
- Plan a fund-raiser to assist with medical expenses for a family that has experienced great medical expenses.

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