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Memorial Garden at the UU Fellowship of door County, Ephraim, WI

Death, Loss, and Grief
Facing Death, Loss, and Grief

Readings and Guidance for Memorial Services

End of Life Wishes and Conversations with Family

  • Aging with Dignity offers "Five Wishes," a comprehensive booklet for individuals to indicate their wishes for end of life care and for their funeral or memorial service. Five Wishes booklets are widely used by Unitarian Universalist ministers and families.
  • The Conversation Project is dedicated to helping people talk about their wishes for end-of-life care. The starter kit invites people to gather their thoughts and begin the conversation with family and friends.
  • Let's Talk about Families and Loss (PDF), by Unitarian Universalist Carol Galginaitis, offers guidance for talking with children and youth about death and loss.

Adult Faith Development

  • Facing Death with Life, by the Rev. Kate Walker and Lee Ann Wester, facilitates a process of personal reflection, learning, and spiritual growth focused on the topic of death and dying. Drawing on a variety of contemporary religious and secular resources, it helps participants move from viewing death as an abstract concept to developing a personal recognition of its meaning in their lives. Eight two-hour workshops.
  • The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America, by Ann Neumann (Beacon, 2016) explores the complexities of death in contemporary America. What constitutes a good death is unique to each of us, depending on our age, race, economic status, culture, and beliefs. What’s more, differing concepts of choice, autonomy, and consent make death a contested landscape, governed by social, medical, legal, and religious systems. Suitable for a book group or study group.

Compassionate Choirs

Many Unitarian Universalists participate in groups who sing by the bedside of those who are dying and/or those who are ill or in long-term care:

  • Some Unitarian Universalist congregations sponsor compassionate choirs as part of the pastoral care ministry of the congregation. Such choirs may visit the ill and homebound as well as the dying and may include either women's voices or voices of all genders. View more information about compassionate choirs that are part of a congregation's music ministry.
  • Some community-based compassionate choirs are closely linked with or sponsored by Unitarian Universalist congregations, often through the music director. Learn more about compassionate choirs led by musicians affiliated with Unitarian Universalist congregations.
  • Some Unitarian Universalists belong to groups such as Journey Song, which is closely affiliated with Seacoast Hospice in New Hampshire. Some Unitarian Universalists are part of Threshold Choirs, an international network of community-based a cappella choirs  whose mission is to sing for those on the threshold of death. Find out whether there is such a choir in your area and how to contact the group through the Threshold Choirs website. View a public media story with interviews and video of a Threshold Choir in Northern California, and a local news story about a Threshold Choir in Port Townsend and Jefferson County, WA.

Reflections and Memoirs about Loss and Grief

  • Nothing Gold Can Stay, by Mark Belletini (Skinner, 2015), includes twenty-two simple yet profound reflections exploring the many and varied forms of grief. The author addresses the way we respond to loss of people in our lives, loss of love, loss of focus, and loss of the familiar—understanding that grief is as much a part of our lives as our breathing.
  • While Still There is Light: Writings from a Minister Facing Death, by Nancy Shaffer (Skinner, 2013), is a heartrending and heartwarming account of the author's final year as she came to terms with impending death from a brain tumor. Shaffer's account of her journey through denial to peaceful acceptance will lend inspiration and courage to those in need, and insight to those who give pastoral care.
  • Love and Death: My Journey through the Valley of the Shadow, by Forrest Church (Beacon, 2009), is the author's final book before his death from cancer. It sums up his thoughts on the topics that have been so pervasive in his work - love and death. The goal of life, Reverend Church tells us, "is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for."
  • Who Will Remember Me?: A Daughter's Memoir of Grief and Recovery, by Barbara Hamilton-Hollway (Skinner, 2004), captures the author's journey through loss and renewal after the death of her mother. It speaks to the challenges and rewards of caring for an elderly loved one, and reminds us that from loss we can also discover a new beginning.
  • Evening Tide: Meditations, by Elizabeth Tarbox (Skinner, 1998, 2011) offers reflections and meditations written during the author's final months of life. Colleague Victoria Safford wrote, "Elizabeth Tarbox is an intimate companion but not sentimental, speaking tenderly but plainly and with crystal-clear honesty about things that deeply matter. Large-hearted, fiercely kind, and very brave, Tarbox strides into the gale-force winds of love and loss."

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