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Providing companionship during death, and after

Providing companionship during death, and after

As we pray on the Feast of All Saints for our loved ones who are gone, here is an inspiring story about efforts in Los Angeles and Chattanooga to provide companionship to the dying and to honor those who have died alone. From Episcopal News Service:

Brother Ron Fender will spend Nov. 1 and Nov. 2, All Saints and All Souls Days, commemorating Chattanooga’s homeless and unclaimed dead, first by decorating their graves with fall flowers and, a day later, with dinner and Eucharist.

While Episcopal Church commemoration of the dead is a longstanding tradition, Fender’s is among a growing number of outreach ministries that “companion” the poor, the homeless, the marginalized and alone, on both sides of the grave.

As outreach case manager for the Chattanooga Community Kitchen, Fender, a monk in the Episcopal Brotherhood of St. Gregory, offers a range of services to the homeless, including keeping vigil with the dying and also burying them.

The ministry emerged “soon after I came here,” he recalled during a recent telephone interview from his office. “One of the homeless men collapsed here at the kitchen and stopped breathing. We did CPR, got him to the hospital and they ventilated him. But after some hours the doctors came and asked me if he had family.

“I knew he didn’t because he told me many times that he was alone in the world and he was concerned there’d be no one to bury him,” Fender recalled. “The doctor said, ‘we really need to let him go’. They started disconnecting everything. I stayed with him till it was over.

With that death he realized that “I didn’t want any of them to die alone and, even if they died alone, I did not want them to go unburied without some recognition of who they were and the fact that I’ve loved them and that God has accepted them into his arms.”

In Los Angeles:

… a three-fold collaboration of the Rev. Sarah Nichols, Chapman University professor Don Gabard, and Dr. Pamelyn Close, has trained almost 100 volunteers for By Your Side, a program designed “to meet people where they are by serving as compassionate companions to those who are dying.”

Nichols, director of pastoral care for the diocesan Episcopal Communities and Services, said the volunteers offer “the gift of authentic presence” to those in local hospitals, homes, long-term care facilities, their own parishes and communities of influence.

“Research shows that companionship and spiritual support are two of the most important desires at the end of life, yet many Americans die alone,” Nichols said in an e-mail to the Episcopal News Service.

“When facing the vulnerability of end of life, every human being deserves to have their sacredness affirmed and their spirituality honored through the compassionate presence of another person, in whatever way is meaningful to them,” she added.

Read full story here.


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Ann Fontaine

Bill – many seem to feel as you do – I have attended death with families and often the person dies when everyone is out of the room. It is an intimate act – dying.


Being a morbid kind of guy, I contemplate death – including my own – rather frequently. I honestly don’t think I want companionship at death. I don’t even like people in the same room when I’m sick especially if I’m doing something intimate that makes me feel vulnerable, like vomiting. I imagine dying as being infinitely more intimate and vulnerable-making.

Maybe I’ll change my mind on my deathbed, but I rather doubt it. I don’t like people staring at me under ordinary conditions, and being the center of attention on a deathbed doesn’t sound attractive at all.

I recognize that this attitude is contrary to our cultural norms. We’re taught that dying surrounded by friends and family is the preferred manner of shuffling off this mortal coil. I’ve just never bought it. I wonder how much of an outlier this attitude is.

And at the same time, I’ve wanted to be on hand when a loved one dies, and I’ve been present at a few deathbeds myself. Is it something survivors want more than the departing?

Bill Dilworth


Great story. Great need. Great witness.


Kevin McGrane

Chris Arnold

Excellent, and thank you for this.

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