Our lives are filled with change. Change involves new possibilities and doors opening: relationships, jobs, learning new things, moves, changing bodies, illnesses, aging, losses of different kinds. Even positive changes like a marriage, a new child, or getting a new job can be disjointing and stressful. And the greatest of all changes is the mystery that we call death.
Spiritual traditions have often held rituals to support members of the faith community to feel the care of others and God through these transitions. When Annie Patterson (spouse of Peter Blood-Patterson) was pregnant with their first child they held “birthing ways” to receive the prayers and support of women and men (respectively) in moving towards birthing and parenting. When they lost two pregnancies to miscarriage, they chose to name them, held ceremonies for these lost potential children, and buried their remains in their yard.
Annie’s grandmother had dementia for many years and seemed to be hanging on a long time after she lost any apparent recognition of others or quality of life. A month or so before her wedding to Peter, Annie began to pray with her grandmother to help her let go. Annie was singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” as her grandmother died.
God holds us and cares for us as we face all such changes and transitions. Hopefully we experience not only God’s loving care as we face changes but also are offered and are able to receive abundant care and prayerful support from our faith community.
Death & Dying
For the first 200 years of Quakerism it was a common practice to record the deathbed statements of many Friends. Many of these were collected into a many volume series of collections entitled Piety Promoted. You can find these volumes in many Quaker historical libraries. In 1998 Lucy Screechfield McIver put together an extraordinary Pendle Hill pamphlet entitled A Song of Death, Our Spiritual Birth: A Quaker Way of Dying. Pendle Hill gave us permission to post this wonderful pamphlet in hopes that it may be help to Friends facing either their own death or that of a loved one.
Mary Oliver’s poem Heavy touches on grief and healing in response to a loss.