Guidance for Friends about Death, Dying and Bereavement

This text is an appendix to Faith & Practice, the book that provides guidance for Friends in New England Yearly Meeting.

7A. Health Care Decisions and Final Affairs

Friends are strongly advised to make their final arrangements well in advance remembering death does not always wait until we are old. Make sure those close to you understand your wishes and know where to find the necessary information. Meetings can help by having packets of the necessary forms available, periodically encouraging Friends to fill them out and, if desired, providing a lockbox at the meeting house in which to keep copies of completed forms.

The more details are written down ahead of time, the more easily survivors can act upon your wishes. Do not hesitate to add details to the ones suggested below.

Some Suggested Documentation:

Health Care Advance Directives: These are available online for each state or from your local hospital. Are these current and up to date? With whom have you discussed your wishes?

  • Will or Trust information: List the names and phone numbers of those who have any written documents, and where the documents are kept.
  • Organ Donation: Have you made the choice to be an organ donor? Do you carry documentation with you?
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care (DPA/HC): Write down the contact information of whoever has documents, and where your copy is kept.
  • Durable Power of Attorney for your Estate: contact information
  • Bank Accounts: Information that will allow access
  • Credit Cards: Bank name, account number, card location, contact information
  • Safe Deposit Box: Location of box, location of key
  • Annuities, Life Insurance Policies: Location of these documents, name and phone number of representative or agent to contact.

7B. Personal Wishes and Final Arrangements

(Some meetings may have their own forms to offer. It is important to have this information collected for the family.)

Personal Data: Pertinent documents along with telephone numbers of executor of will/trust, etc.

Contacts: List key persons who would be willing to notify networks of other people, such as an immediate family member, a professional colleague, a close friend, etc.

Instructions for Final Arrangements: It is advisable to review and update these decisions regularly.

Funeral Director: Does your state require you to use a funeral director? If you need or choose to have a professional funeral director involved, indicate the name, address and phone number. Have you talked with this funeral director?

Consider what your wishes are for disposal of your body or cremated remains: Would you prefer burial or cremation or donation of your body to medical research/education?

If you choose burial:

  • Would you choose to be buried in a coffin or other receptacle, and if so what type? Would you want to purchase it ahead of time?
  • Would you choose a green burial (no embalming; only readily biodegradable shroud or container), and do you know the associated regulations for your state?
  • You may wish to stay informed of other options for body disposition as they develop.

If you choose cremation:

  • Do you plan to have the funeral director transport your body to the crematorium, or do you prefer to have those close to you do so?
  • Do you have a particular vessel you would like to use for containment of your cremated remains?
  • Would you like your cremated remains scattered in a particular place? Is this a legal possibility?

If you chose to donate your body:

  • Have you contacted the appropriate organization and made the arrangements?
  • Have you communicated an alternative plan in the event your donation cannot be accepted?

Memorial Service or Funeral: Do you have a preferred location? Is there someone you would like to officiate? Is there music you would like? Do you want to have flowers? Who should be notified, near and far? Do you have any other specific instructions?

Charitable Donations: Provide names and addresses of organization(s) you wish to receive memorial donations in your name.

Obituary: You may wish to write this yourself, or choose someone else to do it. Who has information about your life?

Care of Dependent Children: Note the names and phone numbers of those you have chosen to take responsibility for immediate and long-term care of dependent children and other instructions concerning their care.

Pets: Give the name and phone number of whoever will provide care for your pets.

7C. Planning a Memorial Meeting

A memorial meeting is a meeting for worship celebrating the movement of the Spirit and the grace of God in the life of a deceased Friend. It is usually arranged by members of Ministry and Counsel, another designated committee, and/or the meeting’s pastor, in consultation with the family and in accord with any wishes recorded by the Friend. In some cases two services may be appropriate to meet both the needs of the family and the needs of the meeting. Meetings or their pastors may be asked to provide this service for people who are not part of the meeting community, and need to be clear how to respond to this request.  

In an unprogrammed meeting, a designated Friend is appointed to briefly explain how the meeting will be conducted and to invite participation of the worshippers. A memorial meeting in the programmed tradition will generally include readings, prayers, and music in addition to information on the deceased’s life and a time of open worship. Below are considerations when planning a memorial meeting. Meetings are advised to consider what they can reasonably offer before making a commitment to a bereaved family.

The Memorial Meeting:

  • Welcome and closing: Usually a Friend from the meeting will be appointed to open and close the meeting.
  • Planned program: Are there any wishes for particular readings, music, musicians, or persons to speak?  If so, what will the family and what will the meeting organize?
  • A printed program: ascertain whether or not the family would like a printed program and what their estimate is of the number needed. Are there special quotations or pictures to include? Would the family like the meeting to handle this or would they prefer to do it themselves?
  • Refreshments: What can the meeting reasonably provide? Often the refreshments are provided jointly by the meeting and family members of the deceased.
  • Guest book: Does the family wish to provide one or would they like the meeting to provide it?
  • Child care during the memorial service: Is the meeting able to provide child care should it be needed?
  • Memorial display: Would the family like to create a display of mementos and photos? Where will it be placed?
  • Overnight hospitality needs: Is the meeting able to offer hospitality if it is needed?
  • Logistical responsibilities: Confirm the chosen date and time with your meeting’s scheduler and make sure arrangements have been made as needed for cleaning, opening and closing the meetinghouse, snowplowing, flowers, catering, and setup and clean up people. Consider the capacity of the meeting house in relation to the expected attendance. Will a sound system be needed?
  • Assign Friends to serve as greeters, to answer the telephone, to help handle parking issues.

7D. Memorial Meeting Printed Programs

In addition to the person’s name, birth and death dates, and the location and date of the memorial meeting, the printed program may include some facts about the person's life and/or a photo, picture, or favorite text. In the unprogrammed tradition, something like the following may be added:

A Memorial Service in the Manner of Friends
Welcome family and Friends of_______   _______, to the __________Friends Meeting. A Friends memorial service is a special meeting for worship in the traditional manner of Friends.  It is a meeting of thanksgiving for the life of the one we have known and loved and by whose presence we have felt blessed. As Quakers we gather for worship in listening and expectation: it is our understanding that in the silence all people can experience God directly. The ministry that occurs comes from those in attendance, as they listen inwardly to God. Anyone present may speak, or remain silent, as the Spirit directs. Tears and laughter are both appropriate. It is not in silence nor in words, but in sincerity of heart that we testify best to the goodness of God as we have seen it manifest in the life of our friend. We seek, in prayer and worship, to give thanks to God, the creator of our friend, and of us all.

If you wish to speak, please stand (and wait for the microphone) so that all can hear you clearly. We encourage you to leave a few moments for silent reflection of the previous message before you stand to speak. The responsibility for the spiritual depth of the meeting rests with each attender. Those who keep silence, as well as those who give a vocal message, do their part when they yield their minds and hearts to the guidance of the Spirit.

The close of the service will be signaled with a handshake and greetings passed among those present.

In the programmed tradition, an order of service may be printed including such elements as Greeting and Gathering Words, Readings, Music, Prayers, Scriptures, Overview of the deceased Friend’s life, Open Worship, and Parting Words. The meeting’s pastor or other designated Friend will generally open and close the meeting and offer words of transition between each element of the service.

7E. Memorial Minutes

Writing a memorial minute

When a member of the Religious Society of Friends has died, it is customary for the meeting to write a memorial minute. Unlike an obituary, a memorial minute considers the ways in which the deceased Friend’s religious convictions have been expressed through the Friend’s actions, relationships, and spiritual gifts. The memorial minute becomes a permanent record, for the meeting and the Religious Society of Friends, of the grace of God as expressed through the life of the deceased Friend. The process of writing a memorial minute starts in the monthly meeting Ministry and Counsel. The committee may choose other members of the meeting to do the writing. Small meetings may wish to write these minutes as a committee of the whole, and large meetings may name a subcommittee specifically organized to fulfill the work. When the draft is completed Ministry and Counsel ensures the readiness of the work before presenting the memorial minute for approval to meeting for business.  All memorial minutes approved by a monthly meeting are sent to one’s quarterly meeting and from there to the Yearly Meeting.[1]

There is no required length, either short or long, but a memorial minute should be a truthful and conscientious expression of the distinctive fruits of the Friend’s religious life. Care is taken to honestly reflect the difficulties and the joys of this Friend’s life. Describing the positions the Friend may have held within the Society, or in their secular life may be less meaningful than describing the quality of presence and commitment they brought to their service.  Some Friends may themselves have written statements about their life as a Friend. These statements are often a precious record in the Friend’s own voice, and with careful judgment, might be included in the minute. When considering what to include in a memorial minute the following queries may be helpful:

  • How does the inclusion of this information in the memorial minute reflect the movement of the Spirit in this Friend's life?
  • What gifts of the Spirit did this Friend bring to the meeting?
  • Are there meetings, organizations, or individuals in the Yearly Meeting, or in other Quaker institutions, who should be contacted to bring fuller understanding of the Friend’s life and service?

Monthly meetings may send their memorial minute to Quaker organizations in which the Friend was involved, or to other places the meeting deems appropriate where the Friend was active, for non-Friends who may not be aware of the death.

7F. Bequests

  1. When making a bequest to a Friends’ institution, Friends are asked to be mindful that restrictions on the gift may impede the needs and leadings of the community in the future. A gift that is restricted to a specific use, may, over time, become difficult to access or use given the changing needs of an institution, or the leadings of its members. Friends should trust those charged with financial care to make careful corporate decisions concerning the well being of the institution and its members. If donors have a specific interest they wish to support with their gift, a letter naming the interest is sufficient to guide the institution and its members to support that interest as they are led. A Friends institution may choose to refuse a bequest if it finds the terms of the gift are not in keeping with its mission or with their leadings.
  2. When making a bequest, donors should be mindful that the funds will be invested consistent with Friends principles and concerns. This may mean that funds will not be invested for the highest rate of return.
  3. In American society it has become common for educational buildings, philanthropic funds, and the like, to carry the name of a donor or of a person or family being memorialized. This is not consistent with Friends principles.

7G. Burial Grounds

Meetings that maintain their own burial grounds should establish policies governing interments, the marking of graves, and the keeping of records. The meeting should appoint a committee of two or more Friends to have oversight of the burial grounds and to insure adherence to the policies. The committee should take care that a plot or reservation of space in the burial ground does not, in the passage of time, pass from meeting control or ownership.

In establishing regulations as to grave markers, meetings should observe the principles of moderation and simplicity. Meetings without burial grounds may wish to create and maintain gardens of remembrance where members’ cremated remains may be scattered or buried.

In cases where the maintenance of a burial ground no longer in use has proved burdensome to the meeting, the possibility of turning it over to the care of others may be considered, with due regard to the use to which the ground would be put.


[1] In 2018, the Yearly Meeting wrote suggestions for writing memorial minutes. Monthly meetings wishing additional guidance in writing these minutes may request that advice from Permanent Board.