Quaker Beliefs and Grief

Angie Lewis


My interview was with Ellen Louise Black (a pseudonym) a retired home school social worker. Her cultural difference is Quaker religion, yes, they still exist in Richmond, IN. She is a mother of three and is about 70 years old. She is from a family in Iowa and has a heritage of Quaker beliefs.

Question 1 What kind of traditions do you have to commemorate a death?

I think the thing about Quaker is in most instances is that it is unprogrammed. Most times the a person will introduce a topic some of the time being lead by a clerk or minister. This is done in the form of a memorial.

The messages at a Quaker memorial are sometimes are done by means of a poem, a reading, or remembrance of the person who has deceased. During this memorial the body of the person is not present.

Ellen stated that after the memorial is over it seems like it was a personal eulogy of the person, Other times things are said that are connected to that persons life and that seemed helpful to the processing of grief. The ideal of it should be the whole memorial should not be focused upon the individual but as a larger sphere.

Many Quakers chose cremation with just the family there prior to the memorial. In her own meeting there is punch and coffee served so that people can greet the family, since there is no formal calling hour. The idea of worship service on focused celebration the life of the deceased would be a more common.

Large tombstones are severely looked down upon by Quakers. Usually the are simplistic stones with the name and the date on them.

In most recent years Quakers have believed in simple burial in which the Clearcreak Meeting has a handbook to help explain a funeral without destroying your finances. She also stated that cremation is cheaper than buying a fancy casket and a million dollars worth of flowers.

At the time of commitment in the cemetery she stated that there was some scripture reading. However, the time of the commitment is a very simple service.

Question 2 What are some of the beliefs you hold that offer comfort in times of loss?

She said that the basic one is eternal life. She said that she did not have any strong belief of what eternal life would be like. She said that in some way or some form a part of us goes on. She said that this is a basis for some people who believe in God.

Question 3 What about beliefs that could add to the pain of loss?

She said that when there is a sudden death and there is a fracture in the relationship. When people are at a loss in a relationship with another person. Or when there is a strain on the relationship. It is important to maintain relationships to the best of our ability.

Question 4 What are your beliefs about life after death?

Ellen stated I don't know what it will be like our physical existence. She related it to an experience she had in a Sunday school class regarding Christmas when someone told her it is no fun if you know what you are getting. Quakers placed a lot more emphasis on living each day at you best. The old Quakers did not make much differences on days of the week or holidays. They instead made everyday holy.

Have not heard a lot of talk about life after death. She thought a lot less than other denominations because they focus on living their best every day.

Question 5 How would you define healthy and unhealthy death?

Healthy grief is open, shared, and able to talk to people about it. Sharing memories with others. She said that she liked having things that belonged to the person who died. i.e. a lamp that belonged to her aunt, pictures that belonged to an uncle.

This brings good memories to her mind. She said that the people who had died in her family were primary old. She said that she did not know how she would handle it if something were to happen to her children or her grandchildren. Having people you could talk to and write thank you letters seemed to provide a therapeutic environment. Processing grief takes time and allowing yourself to feel bad.

Unhealthy grief is acting like nothing ever happened. To bottle it all up inside. To pretend that it does not make any difference.

Question 6 What is the relationship between your private grief and your public mourning?

Ellen state that grief is pretty much a private affair. At memorial services is more of a public grief. She indicated that in public memorial service that she would consider herself more restrained. She also said the only thing she could think of to be considered a public mourning would be a memorial service.

She said that the thought everyone should process their grief. For herself personally that she would try to process grief in private with one or two people. So that she could carry on in public more effectively.

A memorial service that functions at its best there is both crying and laughing.

Question 7. How useful do you think group support is in facilitating successful resolution of grief?

Ellen indicated that larger support groups would make grief a more public and less of an individual support.

Ellen thought that small support groups were more useful. Her attitude toward grief was that you have to live though it and go beyond it. She feels that small support groups can facilitate useful and purposeful meaning to ones grief. These should be no more than five people.

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Written for Grief in a Family Context, HPER F317, Spring semester, 1997.
(C) 1997, Angie Lewis. All rights reserved. Interested parties may contact her through the course instructor, at gilbertk@indiana.edu.