In January of 2010, the Spiritual Care Department introduced the use of the Honor Cloth ceremony at the time of death as one of the many ways in which the staff can make our mission come alive here at The Sarah Community. Living the Mission is much more than reading or hearing it. As we make efforts to practice the qualities of the mission we grow in seeing and experiencing the benefits of a welcoming hospitality, respectful and compassionate interactions. As we practice the mission, we gradually own this mission and it becomes alive in us.
The cloth is white with a universal symbol of new life. It is a means to honor the deceased resident, the grief of the family, friends, living residents and the staff. It is also a formal way to say thank you and good bye. At The Sarah Community, to show respect and compassion till the very end, the honor cloth ceremony is provided for all residents 24/7. It is carried out by the staff, not the mortuary. Staff members help with placing and removing the cloth over the deceased, pushing the gurney from the resident room to the front door, never a side door. Both the front door of Veronica and Naomi houses are used depending on the place of residency. Often residents and staff will gather in the lobby to wait for the procession to arrive, while others may join the procession in process. During day/evening hours, additional staff will help with various needs in the lobby or the area of the death. According to family preference and musical talents present, there may be silence, humming or gentle singing as we walk. Once at the front door, we simply sing some verses of Amazing Grace and have a final Ecumenical prayer, plus final blessing with all raising their predominate hand. Using the honor cloth at the time of death speaks volumes to our families. One time a nephew surprised the family and us by turning up with his violin. With our simple actions, the atmosphere can take on a profound quality as we experience the mystery of holding holistically the sadness, the respect and the compassion with one another.
By Sr. Elaine Abels, rscj. Co-Director of Mission Integration & Spiritual Care.