Brad Sheeks, RN, a hospice nurse, is a member of Central Philadelphia Monthly Meeting. He serves as the clerk of the Southwestern Burial Ground Committee of Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting.
— What can we do to help his breathing? asked the daughter as I approached the bed of the elderly man. After a brief assessment of her father’s condition, I turned to her.
–Can we sit down and talk about this?
–We just have this small bedroom, she replied.
— Okay, here’s the situation. Your father is very near the end of his life. He seems free of pain or any distress that we can fix. All that’s left is for us to be here with him.
Others gathered around his bed, each one reaching out to touch part of his body, quietly weeping. I noticed his breathing slowing down and finally stopping. There was complete silence for a moment. Then the room filled with weeping and crying as the reality of his death registered in the awareness of family and friends.
Later, I went to another room and started a death certificate. The daughter came over and sat down beside me.
–We didn’t make any plans for this. He just came on hospice a couple of days ago, she said.
I made some suggestions about what they could do next, including choosing a funeral home and deciding about cremation or burial. She thanked me for being there for them.
Driving home after the visit, I thought about how easily we miss opportunities to plan for the event of our own death or the death of a loved one. I thought about Friends who had come to the workshop we had last March at Friends Center when Cheryl Clark spoke to us about how families can make plans for caring for the body at home and make arrangements for disposition of the body, including a green burial.
This half-day workshop focused on the practicalities of planning a family directed funeral and green burial. Participants explored the tasks of a meeting Care Committee giving practical, emotional and spiritual support to families during difficult times, including terminal illness and death.
Green burials are done at Friends Southwestern Burial Ground in Upper Darby as well as other burial grounds maintained by Friends. David Morrison of Lancaster Friends Meeting told of his experiences in Lancaster of helping families for care of the body at home. Friends have been doing this for generations, Dave reminded us and Quaker burial grounds have been “Green” for hundreds of years. Reviving the tradition of simple, green burials is not a burdensome task for those charged with overseeing Quaker burials grounds.
While Meetings do well giving spiritual support when there is a death in the family and arranging for a memorial service, often there is a gap in the process when it comes to the idea of caring for the body at home, and helping the family arrange for a green burial, if this is desired.
We also learned at the March Workshop that thorough and well-thought out procedures and training are available to equip Friends in the PYM area to properly care for a body at home and/or to make private arrangements for removable to a crematorium or to a burial ground.
For information about funeral and green burial planning Friends can contact Brad at firstname.lastname@example.org