On Preparing for Death

On Preparing for Death

  • Practical Preparations for One’s Death

  • Steps to Take When a Death Occurs

  • Preparations and Concerns in Planning a Memorial Meeting for Worship

  • Introduction

“We cannot choose to be born. Most of us do not choose the time of our death.
Yet death hangs like a shadow over all our lives, and the shadows lengthen as
we grow older. As with all shadows, we find depth and mystery there-to be embraced
and absorbed into our lives, part of the eternal truth that gives dignity to
humans. We come at last to the clear realization that the aim and solution of
life and death-is the acceptance of God.”

    Margaret Brooks
    Ministry and Oversight Committee
    Pacific Yearly Meeting

To these thoughtful words we need add only that no two deaths are alike, and
no two survivors’ experiences of the same death are alike. Ministry to survivors
must of course be tailored to the exact situation, and there is no one right
“Quaker Way” of dealing with death. This introduction is intended to help guide
TCFM members in the sad and inevitable event of death. We expect to continue
to learn from our experience and from the Divine, and to evolve our understanding
and practices.

Practical Preparations

It is well for Friends to prepare for death as carefully and as thoughtfully
as we do for other significant events in life, such as birth and marriage.

Advance Directives (formerly living wills) are a necessity for everyone, not
only the elderly. In Minnesota there is a legal form for a living will which
can be purchased at any legal supply store, and the blanks filled in. A professional
health care provider can often give information about certain treatments and
circumstances which are hard for a layperson to imagine. A copy of your advance
directive should be given to your health provider, and to one or more family
members who are designated as decision-makers in the ladvance directive;, in
the event that the maker can no longer decide things for him/herself.

Power of attorney is another legal document which Friends may wish to consider.
There are two kinds: durable power of attorney and full power of attorney. The
former designates a person who can make decisions about medical treatment for
the grantor in the event the grantor is unable to act on their own behalf, but
the full power of attorney extends also to financial decisions and transfer
of property. These documents are especially important for unmarried couples
(gay, lesbian, and heterosexual) because their relationships are otherwise unrecognized
by law.

All adults should have at least a simple will and testament. Wills should never
be kept in a safe deposit box, since banks seal the boxes after a person’s death.
The personal representative named in the will should have the original copy
of the will. Lawyers can be of great assistance in settling an estate; however,
the person who dies can be the greatest assistant by making sensible and clear
arrangements beforehand.

Many Friends prefer cremation to embalming, viewing, and an elaborate funeral.
The Minnesota Funeral and Memorial Society provides low-cost,
dignified memorial services. It is a non-profit membership organization, and
Friends can become members at any point in their lives. Members can select from
several plans, ranging from simple cremation to an open casket service followed
by cremation. Membership in the MFMS can be transferred to other, similar societies,
throughout North America, in case the person moves. At the time of death, a
survivior simply calls one of the funeral homes which provides services for
the Memorial Society, or the Society’s office itself for a referral, and the
funeral director will assist in making the arrangements. Friends may receive
all the necessary enrollment information by contacting:

    Minnesota Funeral and Memorial Society
    717 Riverside Drive S.E.
    St. Cloud, MN 56301

Friends may wish to donate their bodies to the University for medical research.
Donors should be aware that most such donations are used for
dissection in medical classes, to teach medical students about anatomy. The
amount of actual research that can be done on a cadaver is actually rather small.
Friends who wish to donate their bodies to the University of Minnesota for the
advancement of medical science can get the proper forms from :

    Anatomy Bequest Program
    4-135 Jackson Hall
    321 Church Street S.E.
    Minneapolis, MN 55455
    (612) 624-1123

Donation of one’s body for medical research and teaching is different from
organ and tissue donation. At the time of death, especially if the death occurs
in a hospital, survivors will be asked whether they wish to donate organs and
tissues. Except in very rare cases (mainly cases of brain death), the organs
in question are the eyes, corneas, pituitary glands, skin, and middle ear ossicles.
Friends should discuss their wishes about tissue donation with close family
members and friends so that survivors have some basis upon which to make such
a decision-which can be distressing when it is raised in a moment of crisis
by an unfamiliar medical professional. Friends also have the opportunity to
declare their wishes each time they renew their Minnesota driver’s license or
ID card.

When Death Occurs

The following is meant to be a helpful list of things to be done by a designated
person in the Meeting when a member or attender of TCFM dies, or when a member
or attender of TCFM asks for assistance with the death of someone close to them.
Many of the items are obvious, but death can be a time of confusion and stress,
when the obvious can escape us.

1. Call a doctor, if none is in attendance. The doctor will make out a death
certificate, which will be necessary for settling the estate later.

2. If you want the body to be cremated and are not a member of the Memorial
Society, call them before contacting the funeral home to check the member’s
instructions with them. Funeral directors will remove the body. Usually they
will ask the survivors to make an appointment within 24 hours to discuss arrangements.
The funeral home usually assists with placing an obituary, though family members
should think about what they want it to say.

3. Discuss a memorial service. The timing of this is entirely up to the family,
especially if the deceased is cremated. The memorial service can be as much
as a month later. If family members have already gathered from out of town,
it may be best to hold the service quickly, to save them additional travel expense.
If there are numerous family members and friends in other places, it may be
best to wait a few days so that they can make arrangements to come.

4. Make a list of family members, close friends, business colleagues, and others
who should be notified by telephone. If desired, help to make those calls. Arrange
for someone to take turns answering the door or phone, keeping careful record
of calls. Begin a list of persons to receive acknowledgements of calls, food,
flowers, gifts, etc., so that thank you cards can be sent later on.

5. Decide on flowers or appropriate memorial to which gifts may be made. Discuss
the disposition of flowers after the funeral (perhaps to a hospital or nursing

6. Notify insurance companies. Check carefully all life and casualty insurance
and death benefits, including Social Security, credit union, trade union, fraternal
orders, etc. Check also on income for survivors from these sources.

7. Check promptly on all debts and installment payments. Some may carry insurance
clauses that will cancel further payments. Assure family members that they can
consult with creditors before payments are due and ask for more time, if death
is causing financial hardship.

Help for the family of the deceased

1. Notify the clerk of Ministry and Counsel that a death has occured. Start
a phone tree, if the deceased or the survivors are well-known within the Meeting.
Place an announcement in Announcement Sheet, for the next Sunday’s worship.

2. Consult TCFM records for any instructions or wishes a member may have left
regarding their funeral service.

3. If the family seems confused or conflicted, and open to help, send one or
more Friends to the home to help them make decisions and to think about what
they ought to do next. Since death can be a time when existing family stresses
become even worse, be sensitive to when an outsider’s presence can be helpful,
and when it may interfere with a family’s communication.

4. Explain to the family Friends customs around memorial services, if they
are not aware of them. If the family wants a memorial service in the manner
of Friends, help them to arrange it.

5. Assist with practical tasks like answering calls or the door, keeping a

6. Assist with child care, or help the family make appropriate arrangements.

7. Consider special needs of a household, as for cleaning, shopping, and cooking,
which might be done by Friends. Coordinate the supplying of food or meals for
the next few days.

8. If the deceased was a member or attender, prepare a minute of the death
for the next Meeting for Business, and be sure the TCFM recorder makes note
of the death in TCFM’s records. Appoint someone to write an obituary for Friends

Memorial service procedure

The important thing in setting up a memorial service is to give warm personal
support, and to be creative in arrangements and programming.

While a traditional Quaker memorial service would consist of unprogrammed worship,
we can and should be flexible in order to meet the family’s wishes if they are
not Quakers. The religious practices and ideas of the family must always be
respected, and the service arranged accordingly. The memorial service should
fit the circumstances and personalities involved. There is no one pattern suitable
for all. In most cases there are a few opening remarks inviting the attenders
to speak as they are moved. In some carefully planned services a whole series
of friends and family members are scheduled to speak briefly. Again, the personality
and ideas of the person who has died, and the beliefs of the family must be
balanced to determine what is suitable. The planners might want to include hymns,
instrumental music, readings, a eulogy, or a formal prayer.

  1. If possible, help the family to set a date for the memorial service before
    the obituary goes into the newspaper so that the time and place can be
    announced in it.
  2. Clear the time slot with the Friend in Residence, if the service is to
    be at our Meeting House. (Remember that our meeting room can hold only 125
    people comfortably. If the deceased is very well known and many people are
    expected at the memorial service, it may be wise to arrange with Macalester
    College to use the Weyerhauser Chapel. Contact the chaplain at Macalester
    to begin the process.)
  3. Ask the family to prepare a biography for the service, and any picture
    of the deceased the family might like to reproduce with it. A simple order
    of worship may be desired. This can include a
    biography of the deceased, a simple order of worship should include a brief
    explanation of Quaker worship, since non-Quakers will likely attend. Include
    mention of where memorial contributions should go. Assist the family in getting
    the order of worship duplicated.
  4. If the piano is to be used check to be sure it is in tune, or have it tuned.
  5. Choose a clerk for the memorial service, who might give a short oral description
    of Friends worhip for the beginning of the service, and close the service.
  6. Contact the Fellowship Committee and ask them to plan for a reception afterwards
    if desired by the family. Determine whether Fellowship will need assistance
    in cleaning up after the reception.
  7. Recruit two or three greeters, and some ushers. Ask ushers to reserve enough
    chairs for family members, wherever they may wish to sit.
  8. Arrange for child care. Meeting’s teens are often willing to help out,
    and can be paid for their time. Ask them to come fifteen or twenty minutes
    early, and to stay that much later, if necessary, to make the child care rooms
    ready for next Sunday.
  9. If the service is more than a week away and the deceased or their family
    are well known in TCFM, be sure that it is announced in the Announcement Sheet
    for the next meeting for worship. If the service is sooner, choose a phone
    coordinator who will start a phone tree.
  10. Assist the family in purchasing a sign-in book for guests, and on the day
    of the memorial service place it on the hall table along with a pen. Also
    place a basket and envelopes for donations on the table, with clear directions
    on how to address any checks.
  11. Arrange any flowers or wreaths. Display any photos of the deceased and
    family on easels. Place boxes of tissues around the meeting room.
  12. Set up chairs in the library or hall for overflow crowd, being sure that
    the double doors can still be opened and people can make their way to bathrooms
    and doors to the outside.
  13. After the service, ask Friends to carry flowers and photo displays downstairs
    for the reception.

Ministry at time of death

Each death is unique, and the circumstances surrounding it are unique.

Sometimes the person who died is well known and well-loved, and the survivors
are barely known to us. Other times we hardly know the person who died, but
family members are in the Meeting. Perhaps the kind of ministry provided will
depend on these factors.

In the immediate circumstances surrounding a death, the Meeting’s main function
may be to reinforce the patient’s and survivors’ own faith system. If the death
seems to provoke a crisis of faith for a survivor, TCFM members can listen,
explore, and offer their own reflections about these matters.

For more information:

This document was prepared by Twin Cities Friends Meeting Ministry and Counsel
Committee as a summary of When Death Comes to TCFM, a larger, more thorough
examination of concerns around a death and resources for the community and family
in responding to the reality of death. Copies of When Death Comes to TCFM are
available in the TCFM library.

Additional questions and concerns can be brought to any member of TCFM
Ministry and Counsel Committee.

    Twin Cities Friends Meeting
    1725 Grand Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55105

January 2001


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