Preparing for Death

We can never be fully prepared.

It looks like Mrs Gamaliel's remaining time will be numbered in months rather than years.

She tells me that she doesn't know how to prepare herself spiritually. All the nice stories we hear and all the assurances don't feel quite so helpful or convincing to her now she enters what is likely to be the penultimate phase of cancer treatment.

Her background is very low church evangelical Anglican, although she always feels more comfortable in Baptist or other non-conformist settings. Hers is a spirituality based on hymn singing and sermons rather than contemplative prayer, meditation and reflection - which tends to be more the direction I'm heading.

How to help her?

I'm essentially parking as much as I can to be a full time carer.

There'll be a lot to do.

My concern, though, in this thread is about the 'spiritual' aspects - and I know they can't be divorced from the practical, but the two go together.

I'm used to a 'daily office'. Mrs Gamaliel is more used to 'arrow prayers' and what she calls 'comments'. She's always been a 'do-er', more a Martha than a Mary.

How can she prepare herself and how can I help her?


  • This is so hard, and there are no right answers as to what is right, but you will know when it is wrong.

    The easy answer would be to pray her way, but you both need support. Make sure that you get the support you need. Be there for her and pray for her any way you can, if you can. How you pray is less important.

    When you are unable to pray is where your support comes in. There is no sin in being weak, you don't have to be strong all the time.
  • I don't understand much of what you posted (arrow prayers, nonconformism). I have been with close relatives and best friends before and when they went. All I can say is spend lots of time, and provide as much comfort, safety and company as you can, within the bounds of taking reasonable care of yourself. Talking and when that's done for the day or night, breathing together.

    And accept all those meals and driving to appts from others. That's their way of doing the practical.
  • Find out her favorite hymns and songs. Get them in audio form or learn to sing them yourself. Sing one together every night (or morning) if you like as a form of devotion. Hymns/songs are especially useful when a person is unconscious, as they can reach the person when other forms of communication don't.

    I've had the privilege of singing hymns to a dying friend before. It was very special.
  • Everything Lamb Chopped said. Music has been shown to stay with people even after speech and memory begin to fail, so it is powerful. Maybe you can find a CD or put together a playlist. Or perhaps some friends could stop by to sing occasionally.
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    Firstly, you know that both of you will have our thoughts and prayers with you both sa you go through this.

    What about reading a chapter from the Bible, alternating verses between you, late each afternoon before you prepare dinner? I'd go to one of the prophets I think.
  • Gam please don't try to do it all alone. Find family, understanding friends who can share appropriate tasks and spend precious time with you both. Be as normal as possible: laugh, cry, share silence. Find God anywhere and everywhere
  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    And rather less on the Ship may help you
  • AmosAmos Shipmate
    Sharing with family and friends; bible reading together, hymns--everything everyone here has said about the comfort of singing and hearing hymns. I'm remembering also when my husband was in hospital and shared a room with a man whose bible study group gathered around his bed every day for prayers and reading. Thinking of you both, Gamaliel, as you walk this road.
  • I can’t imagine how it feels to have months to prepare for your death :cry:

    Maybe discussing her funeral will help?
  • What Lamb Chopped said about music. Also, let yourselves be aware of others praying for you, if there are times when you cannot pray yourselves.

    Maybe keep this thread handy, because what helps tomorrow might be wrong for you both, the day after.

    I am sorry you have reached this point. I, too, will pray for you both.
  • Now is a time to say "thank you", "I am sorry" and "I love you".
  • In my experience, the way kind of opens before me, rather than like actually planning or preparing myself. The main thing that has changed is how much more I have shared and relied on others as time has gone on.
    I am not as close to the pointy end as you but I have been on my own oncological journey for 22 years now. Maybe I am just lazy, but I like to think of myself as "open and responsive". What to do (religiously, spiritually) just comes to me ... and then I do it
  • Ok ... thanks folks.

    Mrs Gamaliel is very meticulous and is applying that to her own demise. It's heart-rending to watch but she's putting things in order.

    We've discussed the hymns/reading idea and she's up for that.

    We've had some mini-instances that have prepared us to some extent, the transition from one form of therapy to another, the initial shock of the diagnosis. Things will fluctuate from day to day but I feel we are both better prepared now than we were.

    We are doing a lot of talking, a lot of hugging and touching for reassurance, a lot of crying. All that.

    In some ways we are privileged. We have time to prepare. Not everyone has that opportunity.

    I have no doubt that there will be Gethsemanes ahead. My wife isn't scared of dying but what lies in between and is also upset by the impact it will have on family and friends.

    She also admits to being jealous of me. If I'm spared I'll see our girls (currently early '20s) grow up, perhaps have kids, go on to do whatever they do. My wife won't. That's the worst bit. And her doddery old mum with Alzheimers.

    Wheesh ...

    You will see me on the Ship but I will try to ease off. I'm one for joffing and controversy but somehow all that seems shallow all of a sudden.

    Peace be to all and thank you for your prayers and concern.
  • I do hope that you find some times to treasure being together in these dark days, Gam.

    Nobody unfortunately can walk this path for you, but hopefully there are some who can walk some of it with you.
  • My heart and prayers go out to you and your wife and family, Gamaliel. What others have said. Hold on to your trust in and love of God, and encourage your wife to do so too, throughout. Indulge her, let her do everything her way. Know that the love you have for each other will never die, and be sure of the hope of eternal life given to us by Jesus. The gospels will remind you both of that daily, and the prayers you share will bring you into conscious connection with God.

    You might invite your parish priest to visit, and to bring holy communion regularly.
  • You are in my thoughts and prayers.
  • Prayers for you and your beloved wife, Gamaliel.

    Have you contacted Hospice? I've known people who have been helped so much not only with practical stuff, but with all of the resources and advice they offer, including spiritual.
  • Being in a similar situation I'm working on preserving voice recordings. I'm not sure if I'll be sorry or not.
  • My prayers for you both. I have found in such times that I can trust in the Holy Spirit to carry me and my loved one along. When I may have not had the words the Spirit gave them to me. When I was growing tired the Spirit sent just the right person to visit. You are not alone the Spirit is with you both.
  • {{The Gamaliels - husband, wife, and family}}

    Not for me to decide, of course, but might this thread be more appropriate in All Saints?

    Just saying. YMMV.
  • Bishops FingerBishops Finger Shipmate
    edited November 2018
    O, and just to add FWIW that in December 2015, having been diagnosed with a brain tumour, I really had no idea what might happen - increasing disability, leading to death, was a distinct possibility.

    Certain Good Christian Friends turned up to act as a small but perfectly-formed Support Team*. Only one was from my current church ('Our Place'), so it's not always the most obvious peeps who will come to your aid, GG. The so-called 'parish priest' was nowhere to be seen....

    (*Their names are written, I am certain, in The Lamb's Book Of Life).
  • I ushered both my parents through the veil last year, and from my own witness and experience I would venture to say that this is without a doubt the most important event of your wife's life.

    The thing that struck me was how dying was such a solitary thing. Though you are surrounded with people, nobody can do it for you, nobody can tell you what it was like for them, nobody can share your pain. You are utterly and completely alone in the process.

    I think there are some very good suggestions up thread. My parents were atheists, so there was nothing to be said or done on the overtly spiritual side, but I was able to do plenty without dishonoring their point of view.

    The one thing that I would recommend for you personally is to take your time. Slow everything down, deliberately. Do not rush through the moments. Slow your pace of thought, speech and action, allow silences between thoughts, be patient with your feelings and let yourself feel them.

    If your wife is having emotional moments - sad or angry - then appreciate her. Give her your full attention, don't defend yourself from her or your own feelings, just honor what she is feeling and expressing as you would appreciate a virtuoso violinist giving the final performance of her career.

    That's all I have. I wish you both the very best of courage and healing in this transition, and beyond.

    Many hugs to you both

  • Thoughts and prayers. This is when they mean something.
  • Thanks folks.

    Wise words. I particularly appreciated some of A Feminine Force's insights, as well as mr cheesy's comments, the advice of ExclamationMark and others.

    We are well supported. The Macmillan cancer nurses are wonderful. We've got all the practical advice and support we need, hence this question being more about the 'spiritual' side - if we can divide the practical from the spiritual, that is ...

    Our parish has an interregnum at the moment but Mrs Gamaliel did see a now retired vicar who used to be a hospital chaplain at one time. She may invite her down to visit.

    Mrs G wants me to be involved on the spiritual side. She likes the music suggestions and wants me to read the Psalms and some prayers from the service books. Not great big chunks but just a passage or two at night-time.

    We are both putting our houses in order and slowing down. I'm tying up loose ends and putting projects on hold. This is my focus now.

  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I wish I had something helpful to say, Gamma, but I realise I have no idea how a person prepares spiritually for the end of their earthly life. It hadn't occurred to me that this is something people do. But it does strike me that your wife is very blessed to have a husband committed to help her do this, to do it with her, to respect her church background differences, and to talk with her openly about this end stage of her life.

    Do make sure you also take care of yourself, Gamma, so you don't burn out. I'm glad you have Macmillan nurses - I understand from people I know who've had cancer or loved ones with cancer that Macmillan is excellent, and they are about supporting the whole family, and they provide counselling.

    I continue to keep you and Mrs G in my prayers. 🕯
  • Macmillan are great. Support them.
  • Praying for you and Mrs. Gamaliel.
  • Seems like you are doing everything right. Just as a dying person goes through several stages, so do their loved ones.

    May I make one small suggestion. We learned it in AA. Two steps, really, make fearless moral inventory (good and bad) of your relationship; Then where possible confess to one another where you have gone wrong. The key is where possible. There could be some things that would be very hurtful and probably should not be said, but do make your peace with each other.

    Are you working with Hospice? They have some very good support systems in place for people to make end of life transitions.

    Wish I could be with you as you both walk through the valley of death.
  • Sure. We've been acknowledging and confessing things we've done wrong and where we've hurt one another over the last 25 years. We've also been doing what Jengie Jon suggested upthread, saying 'Thank you', 'I'm sorry', and 'I love you.'

    I wish we'd done more of that before now.

    But we are doing it now.

    I'm seeing someone at one of the local hospices for counseling.

    The Macmillan nurses and Mrs G's local GP are excellent. We have plenty of support. We are in good hands. We give thanks for that.
  • Gamaliel

    I haven't been about much I know, but many prayers and support to you and Mrs G. Mrs G sounds rather formidable, in a good way. No practical experience of this I'm afraid, but wondered if books of sermons or other more practical and less 'inspirational' Christian books may be helpful - thinking of the Spurgeon type rather than 101 Fluffy Thoughts type. I've never been dying nor am I any type of Nonconformist, but I have been in deeply dire straits and found modern Christian literature and especially that aimed at women to be incredibly irritating. Christian literature from times where death was more omnipresent in everyday life may be more helpful amidst all the people who don't know what to say (which isn't their fault of course, but gets wearing). Also wondering if looking towards Advent in its guise of keeping watch for the Second Coming may help....there must be many low church sermons on the Four Last Things out there.
  • Thanks Pomona. I don't think Mrs G would like to think of herself as 'formidable.' Mind you, she studied French as part of her degree ... ;) ...

    She is indomitable and determined in a quiet kind of way. We are quite different in some ways but similar in others. Like many couples, I suppose.

    A Shipmate sent me a copy of Dave Tomlinson's book on the 23rd Psalm. I think that will appeal to Mrs G.

    She doesn't want crunchy or sinewy theology, but neither does she want the fluffy pink stuff. The Advent theme is a good idea. I like that.

    We've been following the Anglican evening prayers and Compline and I'm on the look out for non-conformist stuff too in order to ring the changes.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited November 2018
    Some Non-Conformist sort of things:

    Other options would include Jim Cotter's Praying the Dark Hours
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    edited November 2018
    Jengie Jon wrote: »
    • Daily Prayer from the 1994 Book of Common Worship from the PCUSA
    A very good resource, and the daily prayer is also available as an app. (Search for “daily prayer PCUSA”). But I don’t know that “Non-Conformist” applies, as that word has little meaning outside the UK. :wink:

    There is also Daily Prayer from the 2018 Book of Common Worship, but it probably isn’t readily available in the UK. And it is similar.

    @Gamma Gamaliel, my only additional suggestion is to be in the moment—be aware of where she is and where you are at any given time, and watch for the small signs of grace in the simplest things that risk going unnoticed. And look for the things to laugh about, even if it’s the ineptness of some who try to help.

    This time is a time when you are on holy ground together. Take your shoes off, let your tears bathe you and when you can, let laughter soothe the hurt at least a little.

    Blessings on and prayers for each of you, and for your daughters!
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    edited November 2018
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Jengie Jon wrote: »
    • Daily Prayer from the 1994 Book of Common Worship from the PCUSA
    A very good resource, and the daily prayer is also available as an app. (Search for “daily prayer PCUSA”). But I don’t know that “Non-Conformist” applies, as that word has little meaning outside the UK. :wink:

    That is why 'sort of thing' is in my opening line Philip Newell's is personal, Northumbria and Iona Ecumenical, John Baillie CofS and personal and the Anabaptist is as much Nonconformist as the PCUSA. They, however, are from traditions the more formal English Nonconformist are likely to draw on when thinking of leading Night Prayer.

    Jim Cotter is personal but very high Affirming Catholic and drawing on his material can be complex for Nonconformists.
  • Thanks folks. I was using the term 'non-conformist' rather loosely and in a UK sense too of course, as in anything Protestant that isn't Anglican - which is effectively how it tends to be used.

    The URC material isn't a million miles from low church Anglican of course. Not looked up the PCUSA material. It's not a tradition I'm particularly familiar with. Outside Scotland and Northern Ireland and, at one time, parts of Wales, Presbyterians tend to be thin on the ground.

    Most URC people I've known come from the Congregational end of that spectrum rather than from the Presbyterian elements that went into the mix.

    The Baptists are the group my wife would be most comfortable with beyond the CofE I think. I imagine she would have felt comfortable with the URCs had she had more exposure to them.

    She likes Evensong and the Anglican prayers but feels more comfortable with congregational forms of church government.
  • The URC material isn't a million miles from low church Anglican of course. Not looked up the PCUSA material. It's not a tradition I'm particularly familiar with.
    I think you’d find the PCUSA materials similar to Anglican forms of Daily Prayer, but perhaps a little simpler, especially with regard to the components (no creed, for example) and the form of intercessions, if that makes sense.
  • Yes, I would imagine that. In practice, a lot of Anglican parishes, particularly evangelical ones, do simplify their liturgies - alarmingly so in some instances.

    My wife feels that some liturgies are a bit 'la-di-dah' - if that's an expression that you'd be familiar with across the Pond. A bit posh. A bit hi-falutin'.

    I think an ordered simplicity is what she'd prefer, hence my quest for other material to augment the Anglican.

    Conversely, and counter-intuitively perhaps, she does value the 1662 Prayer Book, but then she was brought up on that as we all were before the Alternative Service Book came in.

    My guess would be that from the options so far, a mix of Anglican, Northumbria Community and URC/PCUSA material may prove helpful to her.
  • Editing the following to give comment
    Jengie Jon wrote: »
    Some Non-Conformist sort of things:
    • Philip Newell's Benediction -if his earlier work a simple office with morning and evening prayer in a Celtic style.
    • Northumbria Community Evening prayer - again fairly regular but Celtic in style
    • A diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie - mid 1950s Church of Scotland, so well written wordy single prayers for each evening
    • An offering from the Iona Community but you may also find Winter by Ruth Burgess useful - likely to be exploratory with creative themes but set wording
    • Evening Worship from the URC - fairly formal single evening prayer slot to be played with
    • Daily Prayer from the 1994 Book of Common Worship from the PCUSA - a formal office, wordy but with good formal intercessory prayers, not a million miles from Common Worship
    • From the Anabaptist tradition Take our Moments and our Days - a creative rendering, book 1 is for common time which we are just getting out of so I have linked to book2

    Other options would include Jim Cotter's Praying the Dark Hours - A high church poet writes liturgy to encompass his own liberal tendencies, often wordy but also highly creative

    The one I missed is Community of St Aidan and St Hilda who have numerous publications which I have little experience of. What I have suggests more open to the Charismatic style worship than others.

  • Hey, come on, we're talking about the pair of us of an evening not a full on revival meeting ... ;).

    I'll pick a few bits and pieces out of the others. My inclination is to stick with the Common Worship Evening Prayer with occasional use of the Northumbria or URC liturgies because I can find them online and don't have to pay for them.

    Thanks for all the suggestions and recommendations. If a week is a long time in politics, then it's also a long time when you're living with a progressive illness. It's still early days.
  • If it was me, I imagine my wife would want me to sit in silence and hold her hand.

    Do make sure that you are doing something she actually wants..
  • I'll pick a few bits and pieces out of the others. My inclination is to stick with the Common Worship Evening Prayer with occasional use of the Northumbria or URC liturgies because I can find them online and don't have to pay for them.
    GG, cognizant of the risks of resource-overload, I’ll go ahead and mention that the 1994 PCUSA Book of Common Worship, which @Jengie Jon mentioned, can also be downloaded here, if you’re interested. Daily Prayer begins on page 489 (497 of the pdf). The formatting is not as simple and streamlined as in the new 2018 BCW, but I really like the form of the prayers of thanksgiving and intercession.

    FWIW, which if nothing is quite okay. :wink:

  • mr cheesy wrote: »
    If it was me, I imagine my wife would want me to sit in silence and hold her hand.

    Do make sure that you are doing something she actually wants..

    Well you're not me and yes, we do the silent hand holding thing. I'm simply asking the questions here because my wife wants me to pray with her and I'm looking for ideas on ways to do that in a way that suits her rather than in ways that suit me.

    If you'd read the thread properly before jumping on your high horse you might have clocked that.

    Instead you've stuck your big fat nose in and opened your big fat gob and annoyed me. My wife has cancer. Yours doesn't. Sod off.

    Otherwise I'll see you in Hell.

    Seethe ...
  • This thread was going so well before you spoiled it mr cheesy. I've opened a Hell thread. Just for you. Be my guest.
  • Ok, I guess I deserved that.
  • Yes, you did. But I forgive you. It's easily done, putting one's foot in it. Done it myself innumerable times.


    I'll post something conciliatory in Hell.
  • TwilightTwilight Shipmate
    edited November 2018
    Everything you've said here about your wife sounds so lovely, both for the way she is and the way you are for her.

    Her spiritual preferences sound a bit like mine so I'll link to a "not too high falutin." daily prayer site I like, it has different music and short bits of scripture every day, nothing too long and tiring:here

    My sister-in-law found daily comfort in this hymn during her final months, one of my own favorites:Day by Day
  • Hmmm ... The link to the site doesn't work, Twilight and sorry, the hymn doesn't do anything for me and I doubt Mrs G would like it either. But there we go ...

    Anyhow, some good advice and suggestions on this thread over all but I don't think I need any more. Need to work with what I've got so far.

    Peace to all.
  • You mentioned that Mrs G’s spirituality was based partly on sermons in your first post; if you want any to look at, I’d recommend Richard Wurmbrand’s “Sermons in Solitary Confinement”. He composed them in a Romanian prison, to keep himself sane, and they were published some years later.
    I don’t normally have any interest in reading sermons, but these are different; written by someone who was not expecting to survive and was not sure what he would have to cope with.

    Feel free to ignore the suggestion if it isn’t what you want, of course.

    I hope and pray you’re getting the support you need on this journey.
  • Hmmm ... The link to the site doesn't work, Twilight . . . .
    Try this, GG.
  • Thanks Nick and thanks Twilight. I'm going to have to consolidate, I think. There's a lot to go on with all the links I've been sent.

    Thanks to everyone for their help and concern.
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