Living Near the End of Life: Queries for the Elderly

Crosslands is one of a number of Quaker retirement communities in the Philadelphia area. In existence for over 30 years, Crosslands has a Friends worship group attended every Sunday by approximately 40 people, ages 70 to 100. Like most meetings, we have the custom of reading a query once a month.

The queries available in all Faith and Practices are geared to the full range of life experience: family life, vocations, etc. At Crosslands we wanted some queries addressed to the two respects in which our worship group is distinct from other Friends meetings: 1) all of us are approaching the end of life, and 2) we live in a residential community.

The process of creating queries was familiar to us because one of us belongs to Pittsburgh Meeting, which, some time ago, created its own set of queries. (Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, to which Pittsburgh belongs, does not have a set of queries for its member meetings.)

A small group of Crosslands worshipers came together and, in the course of six months, produced three queries addressing the ways in which our group is unique, i.e. being old and living in community. We consider these queries a supplement to the general queries used by meetings:

I. Do I accept death, like birth, as a normal part of life, even to be welcomed under certain circumstances?

Have I arranged the practical matters (regarding possessions, location of documents, burial, etc. that will arise when I die so my family is not unduly burdened?

Am I comfortable with the relationships I will leave behind?

II. Do I look upon the period of old age as an opportunity for reflection on my life and a time for growth and new learning?

Am I willing to talk with family and others about my life journey, my evolving beliefs, and my values regarding dying?

III.Do my interactions with other residents and staff reflect that of God within each of us?

Do I acknowledge the contributions others bring to the community?

Do I look for ways to make the lives of others pleasant or to be of service?

Am I able to keep a generous heart for those who may become more difficult as they age?

Can I accept help graciously when I and/or others feel in need?

When speaking about other people, do my words reflect respect?

In a troubling relationship, am I willing to talk with the other person, both to express myself and to listen, in the hope that the issues may be resolved?

As a part of drafting the queries, we experienced how enriching it is to share our values and thoughts about the end of life. The worship group decided to form several small groups to respond to the first two queries and to give Friends the opportunity to explore their own attitudes and to hear others’ experiences.

The process of writing queries on different topics can be used by any group, Quaker or not: a group of children in your meeting, a group of struggling parents, a group of people facing job loss. If you address the question, How do our basic Quaker values infuse the life in which we find ourselves? you may find it a consciousness-raising experience.

Brigitte Alexander

Brigitte Alexander was first exposed to Quakerism in Berlin (Germany) Meeting in the 1930s. She has been a member of Pittsburgh (Pa.) Meeting since 1968, and she worships with a small group at Parkersville (Pa.) Meeting and at Crosslands Worship Group. Trained as a city planner, she worked in Boston. After a hiatus while raising children, she managed a small foundation in children's mental health in Pittsburgh.