Approaching the End of Life: A Practical and Spiritual Guide

Approaching the End of Life: a Practical and Spiritual Guide

In our death-phobic culture, most of us need all the help we can get planning for our own and our loved ones’ deaths.  This excellent guide, rich with examples, and a good smattering of humor gives just that—an overview of how to prepare for both the practical and spiritual aspects of dying.

Donna Schaper, who is also a minister, opens the book with “The Best Funeral Ever.” She shares funerals and memorials from actual people she knew and helped.

She describes the deceased and makes clear that their wishes should be followed. She closes this chapter with a eulogy she wrote for a feisty friend, Anita, who told the police she would keep driving, no matter what they said, and insisted that no one sing hymns at her service.

In a later chapter on bad funerals, she relates that mistakes happen. For one of the services she conducted, instead of the music the bereaved requested, she carelessly played a classical work left in the CD player. The widow never noticed the switch, and said later, that the music made her feel better during the funeral.

According to the author a good eulogy, should do three things: “commemorate the person, access his or her life, and provide solace to those left behind.”

She advises everyone to prepare for his or her death by living well, by doing what’s important, and by having good relationships. She stresses the need to simplify as one ages, to declutter and get rid of things no longer needed. As part of a good spiritual practice, she recommends following poet Wendell Berry's advice, “Be joyful, even though you have considered all the facts.”

There is a strong religious thread to this book. I found myself skipping the chapter on finding a spiritual home before you die. But there’s also a lot of practical information, what to do the day after your loved one dies, what to do a year after. What not to do that first year of mourning.  Schaper also provides a checklist for planning a service including a budget, and a sample template for a memorial or funeral service.