On Quaker Deathways: Practices Around Death and Dying

In this week’s episode, Carl Magruder tells us how he became an “accidental chaplain.” As part of his seminary training, the only field work that he could find was as a hospital chaplain. “All of my cleverness and rhetoric and argumentation was completely worthless at the bedside of a person who was suffering,” he recalls, “and I could take all of that off and leave it in the hospital corridor, and just to go in with nothing in my hands and no agenda and to sit down in the chair like I had no where else in the world to be, and just open myself to the being that was there.”

As a chaplain and as a Friend, Carl encourages us to think deliberately about our death and how we might choose to face it. “I don’t have all the answers and what’s right for the individual is very individual,” he says, “but… we don’t think about it, we don’t talk about it, then we catch a diagnosis and it’s very hard and scary to think about and talk about.”

6 thoughts on “On Quaker Deathways: Practices Around Death and Dying

  1. First, as a physician and as a Friend and as someone who has worked a fair amount with people who are dying, I very much like what Carl is saying about the processes of suffering and dying.

    Further, I do a great deal of work with traumatized people, asylum seekers and refugees and war victims online in various parts of the world. Carl’s point at the beginning of the video about walking in without any preconceived ideas, and “simply” – it is not at all simple – listening to the people – there always also are relationships – is the essence of good therapy. I don’t know how many times people have said to me something like, “you’re the first person who has listened to me”. Listening and empathizing and being there is essential. This is the essence of our spiritual relationship to other people and to G-d.

  2. As a retired healthcare chaplain in the UK, I would like to endorse all that Carl says in this video. Thank you Carl for all that you are doing.
    May we all seek a holy death. May we strive to allow others to die well, and may we all know how much we are all loved and valued by God.

  3. Thank you, Carl. As a person who had a diagnosis take a nasty turn last November, I appreciate what you have observed and learned. I just finished my 3rd chemo regimen, which only has a 50% response rate. The first two regimens worked, but somewhat ineffectively. I have had to consider dying sooner than I expected. And you are correct about being a witness and a listener. I have found adages can make me angry. The words more typically used such as “battle” or “fight” don’t resonate with me. What does resonate is that I am on a Spiritual path – and that I can look at what is in front me, discern Spirit’s will as best I can, and then move forward. I can cultivate gratitude for small things, and I can belly laugh – not only at puns and well-designed comedic monologues – but at simple things that amuse me. In short, I fully live simultaneously as I acknowledge death. I can’t find words that adequately describe holding both of these in my hands at the same time. Someone to listen and witness when I need to gnash my teeth and pull out my imaginary hair – or belly laugh, or take a sharp inhale when something beautiful is seen, or cry out of the fullness and/or grief – that’s what I need the most. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Thank you Carl! Lots of great points and thank you for sharing your personal journey. I am not so sure Scott Nearing was a Quaker – similar life philosophy, but I have never seen anything that would say he was a Quaker.

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