Inevitably for me, holidays like Christmas are accompanied by all those ghosts of Christmas Past, the holiday celebrations I remember as a child (and which seem to grow more vivid with age). For my mother’s family in New Orleans, Christmases inevitably centered on our house, which had the only room large enough to accommodate everyone for Christmas dinner. Aunts, uncles, cousins, friends of relatives, and my grandmother would start arriving about noon, carrying gifts, food, and especially bottles of beer, wine, and whiskey.
The few times we spent Christmas with my father’s family in Shreveport, a similar gathering occurred at the house of one of my aunts. The only difference was the absence of any alchoholic refreshment, which made no difference to me but always disappointed my father.
I look back now, and realize how few of those relatives are left. My grandmothers died long ago. My parents are gone. I have one aunt left on my mother’s side (out of a total of five aunts and uncles) and none on my father’s side.
And yet, the memories, all good ones, remain.
Death is an uncomfortable topic. We don’t like talking about it. We don’t like thinking about it. We see it as an end, unless we are Christians, and then we see it more as a beginning. But death is a reality that we face, for ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones. It is as much a part of life as birth is.
That understanding pervades the Sacred Dying Journal: Reflections on Embracing the End of Life by Megory Anderson, published by Paraclete Press. The book is, she writes in the introduction, “is intended for those who wish to address their spiritual needs, even though the subject might be at times a bit uncomfortable.”
She divides the journal into four sections: caring for the body and soul, sacred dying in time and space, legacies, and honoring the body / commending the soul. This suggests that we look at death, for most of us, as a process that happens over time. To resist preparing for it and even thinking about it is to resist a very integral part of life.
Not surprisingly, the Sacred Dying Journal has a considerable amount of unused space following questions. The questions are designed for reflection, and the space is designed to write down those reflections and the answers that may come. What gives you meaning today? What do you hold on to during times of transition? What have been your most cherished joys? What do you want your funeral to be?
Anderson is the founder and director of the Sacred Dying Foundation, based in San Francisco. A research fellow at the University of Winchester in the U.K., she is also associated with the University of San Francisco and University of California, Berkeley. She received a doctorate in theology of death and dying from Canterbury Christ Church in Canterbury, England. She is also the author of Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life (2003) and Attending the Dying: A Handbook of Practical Guidelines (2005).
The Sacred Dying Journal is more than a way to consider and prepare for one’s death. It is also a resource that will be left as a legacy for your loved ones. And it could very well be a guide and a treasure you leave behind.
Top photograph by Chris B via Unsplash. Used with permission.