A Holy Week Retreat In Place
by Rose Feerick
One of the activities I found myself doing as part of my Covid-19 preparation involved reviewing my will.
It is not that I am expecting to die from the virus. I am not. But this virus has brought death into a more proximate reality for me than how I generally hold it. Daily reminders that death is at work in our towns and cities have shifted my procrastination about attending to end of life matters. I want there to be as much gift and comfort in my death as I can offer. Whenever that is.
I am inspired by the example of my friend Helen Daly who engaged with her death as a spiritual practice. Helen was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer in June 2012 and died in November of that year. When it was clear that she was going to die, she stopped fighting her illness and instead prepared her spirit by gathering spiritual friends and teachers around her to support her in moving through fear and grief into love (some of Helen’s preparations for her death can be viewed on the Contemplative Society website.). As part of that process, she also updated her will, directing gifts to people and organizations that she loved so they could move forward (read my interview with Helen about this process here). Watching Helen walk toward her death in a spirit of surrender was powerful. And then I got to see what happened after she died. I watched, for instance, how her husband came to life, became a spiritual teacher in his own right and spoke of her as a real presence in his heart. I also watched how the financial gifts that flowed after her death carried an energy and quality of support that made doors open for individuals and organizations.
More recently, I was able to be with a man from our local church, Jim Brigham, right after he had been told that his chances of surviving a stroke were slim. When I visited him at the hospital, I asked about his prayer life. He said that the work of dying is like the spiritual practice of living: breathe in and on the exhale open your heart to grace. After he died, when his widow and I were planning a Celebration of Life service, everything flowed with ease. He had left some instructions, but as we created the service I had an inner sense that he was working with us from beyond the veil, making my job as minister effortless.
And then, just as the virus was landing in public consciousness, I had the opportunity to sit with another friend from church as she was dying. Every day for two weeks, I took a break from pandemic panic to visit Janet in a hospice near my home. I felt such peace and calm sitting with her, listening to the birds.
These experiences have shifted my fear and avoidance of death. They have helped me to see that there is a sacred mystery at work in the final threshold. And there is an opportunity to express love in a very powerful way, if I am willing to do the work and prepare.
And now it’s Palm Sunday. This is the week where we walk with Jesus on his death journey. Meanwhile, the specter of death continues to make daily headlines. Every morning I see updates on how many people have died and are expected to die by August. It’s scary. It’s heartbreaking.
And yet another part of me knows something else: it is possible to walk into and through the doorway of death as a practice of life. I believe Jesus modeled this in his own death journey. That is what I am paying attention to this Holy Week.
What if I could be in Holy Week as an opportunity to open my heart to death and specifically to my own death? What if I carved out time this week to attend to end of life details, with a particular attention on how my choices and offerings can be a gift to the people and organizations I love?
I have decided to do it.
I have taken my knowledge of the spiritual movements of Holy Week and combined them with end of life preparation tasks. Below is a holy week retreat that I designed for myself. This is what I am planning to do this week. I post my intentions here in case you would like to join me in this practice of “the love that is stronger than death.”
Surrender to Grace: Preparing for Death with an Open Heart
Holy Week Retreat In Place
Note: This is intended to be a guide for the personal journey of getting clear about one’s intentions. After Easter, I suggest consulting with an attorney to start or update relevant legal documents. Your attorney/financial advisor can also provide guidance related to your particular financial situation. For those for whom checklists are helpful, here is one website I found with several end of life checklists. Several others are available online. If you have a financial advisor/lawyer, he or she may also have helpful tools.
- Daily centering prayer at 7:30 am (Introduction to Centering Prayer by Cynthia Bourgeault)
- Wed-Fri Zoom Gatherings with the Pescadero Community Church (email me at [email protected] if you would like to join) or private Lectio Divina practice.
- Daily End of Life Preparation Tasks
- Minimize social media, email, news
- Find a friend or pastor/spiritual leader to check in with if feelings emerge
- Do what you can and not what you cannot
- Feel free to adapt tasks to fit your situation/needs
- Create a prayerful space in your home
- Consider what you would love to see happen in your family, community, world well beyond your passing and then consider what gifts you can offer to that future (generally – we’ll get specific as the week goes on).
- Gather your financial information in a summary document and place in a secure location (i.e. safe, safety deposit box, secure cloud file, etc.). Here is a checklist of information to gather.
Wednesday: Extravagant Love
7:30 Centering Prayer
5pm Lectio Divina: John 12:1-8 on your own or with Pescadero Community Church
- Identify cherished items you would like to gift to specific people – make a list to include with your will (be sure to share with your attorney after Easter).
- Articulate the process you would like your family and friends to observe in going through other material items. (If you have already done this in your will, review.)
- Write Letters to Family/Friends with a focus on what you especially appreciate about them. (Note: these letters are intended to be a blessing – not a “I wish you would have…” or “I hope someday you do…” Focus on “this is what I love and appreciate about who you are.)
Thursday: Love One Another As I have Loved You
7:30 Centering Prayer
5pm Lectio Divina: John 13:-17 or with Pescadero Community Church
- Care for someone’s feet (give someone in your location a foot massage or give yourself a warm foot soak or home pedicure)
- Review/create your will.
- What would you like to give to family/friends?
- What gifts would you like to make to charitable organizations?
- What joy gifts (i.e. playful gifts or gift certificates or other surprises)?
- Notice if there is someone you have left out who might be hurt by that exclusion
- Write a letter explaining the intentions behind the decisions that are in your will.
Friday: The threshold of death
7:30 Centering Prayer
3 pm Lectio Divina: John 19 or with Pescadero Community Church
- Review or create a health care power of attorney document
- Consider questions related to what kind of care you hope for/who you would like to be with you as you are in the dying process
Saturday: What would you like your memorial to be like?
7:30 Centering Prayer
5pm Lectio Divina: The First Apostle by Robert Pynn on your own
- Create a document with notes you want to share with loved ones about what you would like your memorial to be like
- What readings?
- What music? musicians?
- Presider (if religious service)
- Reception/Celebration afterwards?
- Who would you like to be there?
- What amount of money do you need to set aside for this?
Sunrise: Lectio Divina: John 20: 1, 11-18 on your own
11am Easter Service with Pescadero Community Church
- Share updates with your attorney. See if you need to update legal documents.
- If you have not yet created a will, find an attorney who can assist you in creating a will/ bring information you have gathered.
- Place items gathered in a secure location (safe, safety deposit box, secure cloud file) and share with trusted friends/family.
- Catch up on any tasks that you noted during Holy Week (i.e. updating beneficiaries, etc..)