Resources on Dying Well and Planning Funerals
January 23, 2020
Updated July 6, 2020
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This article is part of The Third Third of Life Toolkit—a collection of resources for ministry to and with people ages 55 and over, brought to you by two ministries of the Christian Reformed Church in North America: Disability Concerns and Faith Formation Ministries.
Death is a subject that makes most of us uncomfortable. We don’t like to talk about it. When we do, we often use euphemisms like “passed away” or “gone to their heavenly reward.” Even those of us who believe in eternal life have difficulty thinking about saying goodbye to this life. The resources listed here will help you and members of your congregation think and talk about what it means to die well—to die as people with hope.
Articles on Death and Dying
Saying Your Final Goodbye. Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge emphasizes the importance of talking about death openly, of reconciling, and of saying our final blessings and goodbyes.
Living Well, Dying Well. Erika Dekker explains what it means to die as people who have hope.
Of Death and Grace. Jacob D. Eppinga offers beautiful and honest reflections as he faces death.
Hope in the Face of Death. John Mulder raises some important questions about end-of- life issues and invites readers to consider the options of hospice and palliative care. The article includes questions for discussion.
In his article Dying Gives Us a Chance to Confront Truth, C. Kavin Rowe of Duke Divinity School shares how his wife's entry into hospice care helped them both accept the truth about their mortality and experience the freedom that brings.
A Litany for the Sick or Dying. An adaptation of Psalm 102 to use with a congregation or with someone who is dying.
Books on Death and Dying
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. The ultimate point of this beautiful book is that living a good life to the very end is a more important goal than a “good death.” Gawande, a New York physician, urges readers to avoid “warehoused oblivion,” a term he uses to describe the years many people spend in nursing homes and undergoing endless treatments. He gives a moving account of his father’s death and stresses the importance of not only an advance directive but frequent conversations with family about end-of-life care.
The Christian Art of Dying: Learning from Jesus by Allen Verhey. In this book ethicist Verhey challenges the medicalization of death and uses the account of the death of Jesus to teach what it means to die well and faithfully.
Between Life and Death: A Gospel-Centered Guide to End-of-Life Medical Care by Kathryn Butler. Butler’s book offers distinctively Christian perspectives on end-of-life care and dying. As an MD, she’s well aware of how advancing technologies have sometimes made the choices we face confusing, and she challenges readers to face the end of life in a God-honoring way.
For Older Patients, an “Afterworld” of Hospital Care. This thoughtful article describes life in facilities that most of us don't think about—hospitals designed primarily for patients who will never return home. The statistics and descriptions raise some interesting questions about end-of-life issues.
In Christian Funerals: Going to Be with God, Joan Huyser-Honig interviews three pastors about what’s important in a Christian funeral.
In “Follow the Body,” Leonard Vander Zee describes contemporary funeral practices and talks about the importance of honoring the body and having it present at the funeral service. Also see When Someone Dies: A Pastor Answers Some Common Questions About Funeral Practices and Traditions, in which Vander Zee responds to many questions people raise about funeral practices.
On Funerals, Comfort, and the Gospel. Neil de Koning explains why funerals are important not only for the family but also for the community.
Pastorally Proactive—Responding Wisely to Family Funeral Requests. John Witvliet discusses the importance of being proactive in helping the congregation understand what’s important in funeral planning. The article includes a sample letter that pastors can adapt and send to their congregations.
Cremation: Some Questions and Answers. Kenneth Baker answers some common questions people have about funerals and stresses the importance of considering the tenets of faith in funeral planning.
Only the Gospel Will Do. Roger Van Harn explains why it's so important to preach the good news of Jesus and salvation at a funeral.
The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care by Thomas G. Long and Thomas Lynch. This book is an honest conversation between a pastor and a funeral home director about some of the major challenges created by the commercialization of funerals and what they consider a “good” funeral. Also see Authors Talk about “The Good Funeral” for a conversation the two authors had with an audience at Calvin Theological Seminary.
In Life and in Death: A Pastoral Guide for Funerals by Leonard Vander Zee. A helpful resource for pastors and elders who lead funerals and minister to the dying or to people grieving the loss of a loved one.
FOR THOUGHT OR DISCUSSION
What can you do now to make it more likely that both the way you die and your funeral will reflect the joy of the gospel?
What can church leaders do to encourage more biblical funeral practices?
If you’re part of the Christian Reformed Church in North America and you have questions about how to strengthen your church’s ministry to and with people in the third third of life, one of Faith Formation Ministries’ Regional Catalyzers would love to talk with you about ideas and strategies.
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