D’s Ministry of Death.

I feel like I should preface this with a,

BWAHAHAHAHA

As in creepy vampire, zombie, ghost and ghoul reactions to Death.
I imagine many readers will discover the appropriateness of the thought before long. It is probably a thoroughly appropriate response, especially to people who don’t know me very well. Because the sound also represents me reacting to talk of Death. With ironic laughter. It’s just how I roll.

In my previous writing on Death I mentioned that I had been called to a ministry around death. Yes, an actual Christian “woo” ministry to serve people and their loved ones as they face their own certain end. And yes, I know that Christian chaplains who minister to the dying are a dime a dozen. I know that hospice care is available nearly everywhere, and most offer some sort of mental counselling to their patients (IF they ask.) I am not going to do any of those things.

I am going to be a death facilitator. My purpose is to coordinate what is already available to people wherever they live, and make those services work better for them. I am going to be able to explain all sorts of things about making a death plan and making sure it is carried out, all the way to the end, and to help deal with the inevitable details, changes of plan, and obstacles that may crop up that can derail those plans.

I believe that humans live their lives within 3 realms of existence. The physical realm we share with all living beings because we all evolved from a common physical source. Complex emotional life has certainly developed in higher species’, as anyone who has loved a dog knows very well. What humans have that is unique to us is spirituality. The reason we alone have this realm is because we are the only species that that lives with the certain knowledge and understanding of our own personal death.

Other species may instinctively avoid death, but there is no evidence that any other species observes the death of their kin with any personal connection to their own death. I think we would see rituals around death in communities with a lot of interaction socially. Humans seem to be the only species that takes the corpse and does things symbolically around it. We have always washed our dead, dressed our dead, and supplied them with gifts for what comes next. Neanderthals did, and there is evidence that Denisovans did as well. Remember, these ancient humans were the same species as us. They are Homo Sapiens, just as we are. They interbred with the most modern version of our species, and were in fact, genetically absorbed by modern man. We all carry this ancient DNA within us today. These people buried or secreted their dead with obvious ritual. Like us, they had speech, and were able to think about and talk about death. And that is the defining difference between humans and other species.

My work will be to lead all the other people involved in the care of the dying person and his family or community. Each of the providers within these realms will have different goals perhaps, but they need to be in balance with each of the other two. Let me give you an example with my friend Bernie. I did not realize that someone else had decided to take on the role of spiritual advisor to Bernie a few years before her death. I am thinking that this person didn’t have a lot of intimacy with Bernie, because she never mentioned her to me. And yet, there was a stage in the process where this woman’s talk of miracles ended up with my friend out of hospice care, and alone in a hospital emergency room. It isn’t important why she thought to say those things, except that had I known, I would have seen the imbalance and perhaps could have repaired the tracks before the train derailed, so to speak.

Because once this train has started, it cannot be reversed, only delayed, and usually to no benefit to anyone. My friend’s death, which progressing normally would have lasted 3 days took nearly 8. None of those extra days were good days for anyone.

This is my opinion, and it is strongly held. You are not doing God’s work if you are trying to convert a dying person to your personal faith. You aren’t “saving” the person in any way shape or form. If you believe that people must say something like ”I believe in Jesus” before they die and do something called repent or they will be entering torture in a few hours, stay the hell away from dying non-Christians, please! And if someone like that is talking to my clients, I am going to do what I can to see that they aren’t taken seriously.

Christians! If God had wanted this person “saved” before death, I am convinced it would have happened long before they got to their deathbed, ok? That is God’s job, and I have perfect faith that God is capable of it. So, GTFO with your deathbed conversion. I have no respect for it, and you are getting in my way. Don’t do that. It won’t end happily for you.

I expect that when I get this all set up, I can start working with people months or even years before the event. We are all terminal, so some things can be done way in advance. Funeral expenses certainly, but more than that can be learning what to expect for yourself, and for your loved ones that may be experiencing in the dying process.

All that is going to be completely individual, of course, but there are many common factors that you may not be aware of. For example, different states have different laws surrounding the handling of a corpse. Many states have a lot of red tape around cremation. If you are alone attending to your mother’s final days, did you know that any and all siblings may have to give written permission for the cremation? If siblings are scattered far and wide, it is a real good idea to be aware of what your state has to say about such things. Some states allow home burial, some don’t. Make sure of the legalities of what you want. That is a thing I will be able to help with.

So here is a run down of the basics

  • The work will be online or by phone, so I can work with any English speaker anywhere.
  • The work will begin at anytime, but will intensify as the time gets closer.
  • I will maintain a daily presence for the last two weeks, and then a 24 hour virtual presence once the active dying stage begins.
  • I will conduct a virtual vigil during those last 3 days or so that will be open to anyone the family wants to invite. Those gathered online can have their messages, music selections, poems, etc. read or played for the dying person. This brings the celebration of their life directly to them while they are still among their loved ones. I am hopeful that the entire vigil can be copied to a document that can be shared to the loved ones as a memorial.
  • I will monitor all the signs and symptoms of the process in all three realms, and offer course corrections as necessary. This will require HPPA permissions, I am sure.
  • While this is a Christian ministry, because I am doing it as a Christian, it really isn’t directed toward Christians. It certainly isn’t a ministry to convert people to my faith, in fact the opposite. I will provide spiritual counselling to those who do not already have it readily available. So, for people with unusual faiths, or no faith at all is where I will come in. . I think my best spiritual work will be with atheists, and I can do that with only an occasional reference to God, and none at all to any specific religious tradition. I can also help merge any differing religious traditions held by the family and help the experience be inclusive.
  • I will research and provide information on a wide range of subjects including the medical reason for the death, what events can be expected and how to manage them, laws of the particular state, other services in the area that I can discover for them and offer referrals to, including hospice, counselling services, and even advice to help budget and stay on budget for the final expenses.
  • I’ll incorporate many of the needs that have become glaring during covid, and continue them to make death rituals even more accessible to families going forward using the technology in new ways. Online memorial services, vigils and pre-death visits can now all be conducted online.

In our ancient history, coming together around a death was the more usual occurrence, especially during the pre-death time when the community would often gather at the home or hearth of the dying person, and the closer death loomed the more important the visitors became, eventually including most of the tribal elders and religious figures. In modern history, it is a time of separation, especially for those outside the inner circle of family and closest friends. We keep our distance, we draw back, we offer only the most shallow of words, and we refuse to face our own fears about death.

And we suffer all suffer for that. We can do better. We should do better. I intend to be someone who helps make that happen.

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