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Prayers, poems, and meditations

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
~ Algernon Charles Swinburne

He did not say: You will not be troubled, you will not be belabored, you will not be afflected; but he said: You will not be overcome.
~ Mother Julian of Norwich

Teach me your mood, O patient stars!
Who climb each night the ancient sky,
Leaving on space no shade, no scars,
No trace of age, no fear to die.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson


They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
~ Laurence Binyon

O death, where is thy sting?
O grave where is thy victory?
~ St Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55

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All I Ask of You
(based on a Sufi song, from the mystical tradition of Islam)

The chorus in English translation:

All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.
~written by Gregory Norbet, then a monk at Weston Priory.
As sung by Amy Lau
As sung by a woman whose name I don't know (credit: Funeral 052314AD, St. Patrick, Thompson Ohio)


In Arabic:
Ishq' Allah, Ma abud L'illah
(God is love, lover, beloved)

"What cannot be said will be wept." ~ Sappho

"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home."


                           ~Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee Nation

Psalm 121
I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills: from whence cometh my help. My help cometh even from the Lord: who hath made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: and he that keepeth thee will not sleep. Behold, he that keepeth Israel: shall neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord himself is thy keeper: the Lord is thy defence upon thy right hand; So that the sun shall not burn thee by day: neither the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: yea, it is even he that shall keep thy soul. The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in: from this time forth, for evermore. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.


Do read Good Bones (a poem by Maggie Smith) Or listen to Anna Akana read it.

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What is dying? I am standing on the seashore. A ship sails to the morning breeze and starts for the ocean. She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at last she fades on the horizon, and someone at my side says, "She is gone." Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all; she is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when I saw her, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination.

The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her; and just at the moment when someone at my side says, "She is gone," there are others who are watching her coming,and other voices take up the glad shout, "There she comes!"--and that is dying.

~ Bishop Brent

"He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong."
~W. H. Auden, from "Funeral Blues," the poem quoted in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral


When I die
Give what's left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.
And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I've known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on your eyes
And not on your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting
Bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn't die,
People do.
So, when all that's left of me
Is love,
Give me away.
~Merrit Malloy

Excerpt from “The Tempest”

Be cheerful, sir:
Our revels now are ended
These our actors,
As I foretold you were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all of which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind:
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
~ William Shakespeare

"BACKWARD, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for to-night!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother,—rock me to sleep!"
-- first stanza of Rock Me to Sleep by Elizabeth Akers Allen

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There is a section of Prayers in Many Voices in Dying: A Book of Comfort
but here are some selections in the meantime.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in Heaven,
hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done,
on Earth, as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
(Google will take you to many other versions)

The 23rd Psalm
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,
He leadeth me beside the still waters,
He restoreth my soul.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
For thou art with me.
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal;
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.
~ Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4

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Inside Our Dreams

Where do people go to when they die?
Somewhere down below or in the sky?
'I can't be sure,' said Grandad, 'but it seems
They simply set up home inside our dreams.'
~Jeanne Willis

Ben Franklin's epitaph
(verse written when he was a young man)

The Body of B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn out and
Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies here, Food for Worms. Yet the
Work shall not be Lost:
For it will as he believed appear once More
In a new & more beautiful Edition
Corrected and amended by the Author.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things that cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
And wisdom to know the difference.

Indian serenity prayer

God, grant me the strength of eagle wings, the faith and courage to fly to new heights, and the wisdom to rely on His spirit to carry me there.

When Catholic chaplain Raymond McGrath uses this prayer in a memorial service, he plays the music from Tribal Winds, Music from Native American Flutes, a CD which also works well for meditation or background music.

Catholic Prayer for the Dead
Eternal rest, grant unto him (her) O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him (her).
May he (she) rest in peace (Amen) May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Epitaph on a Child

Here, freed from pain, secure from misery, lies
A child, the darling of his parents' eyes:
A gentler Lamb ne'er sported on the plain,
A fairer flower will never bloom again:
Few were the days allotted to his breath;
Now let him sleep in peace his night of death.

~ Thomas Gray

Our revels now are ended

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

~ William Shakespeare

Death is at once

Death is at once
The end of the body's
Old journey
And the beginning of the soul's
New journey.

~ Sri Chinmoy

Here's a poem written by a Canadian physician in Flanders, Belgium, after he had buried a friend in a makeshift grave. It was not included in the anthology but speaks to the sacrifices made by the soldiers who fight our wars:

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
~ John McCrae, 1915

Joy be with you while you stay, and peace be with you on your way.
~ an Irish blessing


You can shed tears that she is gone
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray that she'll come back
or you can open your eyes and see all she's left.
Your heart can be empty because you can't see her
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she's gone
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what she'd want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

~ David Harkins

"Ego says, "Once everything falls into place, I'll feel peace."
Spirit says, "Find your peace, and then everything will fall into place."

― Marianne Williamson


“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.”
~Bhagavad-gita 2.12

An old Irish blessing
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be ever at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in the palm of your hand.

We give them back to Thee, dear Lord, who gavest them to us; yet as Thou dost not lose them in giving, so we have not lost them by their return. Not as the world giveth, givest Thou, O Lover of Souls. What Thou gavest, Thou takest not away, for what is Thine is ours always if we are Thine. And Life is eternal and Love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.
~ Spoken by Dr Wesley Carr, Dean of Westminster, at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother, at Westminster Abbey, 9 April 2002 (you'll hear an echo of the ending in a Carly Simon song)


Further reading and selections:
Anglican prayers for funerals and memorial services
Irish funeral prayers
Native American wisdom, collected by Dee Finney
Readings, prayers, and spiritual resources for those keeping vigil and giving care (Hospice.net)
Reflections, in a Healing Space (Fr. Frank Downes OP, a priest of the Irish Dominican Province)
Fifty Famous Poems (many related to death, dying, loss, and bereavement--Famous Poets and Poems.com)
And Death Shall Have No Dominion (Poem by John Donne)
Recommended reading, viewing, and listening
Books and audio for spiritual journeys (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat's website)
World Prayers (good collection -- click on one of four areas to get random selections: Celebrations, Adorations, Invocations, Meditations)

Find more wonderful selections in Dying: A Book of Comfort

Ask where a man's glory
begins and ends
And say his glory was
he had such friends.
~W.B. Yeats

Warm summer sun,
shine brightly here,
Warm Southern wind,
blow softly here,
Green sod above,
lie light, lie light,
Good night, dear heart;
good night, good night.

~Mark Twain's eulogy to his daughter Olivia Susan Clemens

BRING us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven, to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity; in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end. Amen.
~ John Donne

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Take me back oh hills I love,
Lift me from this lonely bed,
Light my way with stars above,
Curl soft winds about my head,
Wash my feet in crystal streams,
Cradle my arms in boughs of oak,
Breathe the scent of pine for dreams,
Wrap me tight in earthen cloak.
~Appalachian Round

"But I have lived, and have not lived in vain;
My mind may lose its force, my blood its fire;
And my frame perish even in conquering pain;
But there is that within me which shall tire
Torture and Time, and breathe when I expire
Something unearthly, which they deem not of,
Like the remember'd tone of a mute lyre,
Shall on their soften'd spirits sink, and move
In hearts all rocky now the late remorse of love."
~ From Lord Byron's poem, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" Canto IV, Stanza 137 (Canto the Fourth, CXXXVII -- the bolded lines are inscribed on his grave)

"To me the honour is sufficient of belonging to the universe — such a great universe, and so grand a scheme of things. Not even Death can rob me of that honour. For nothing can alter the fact that I have lived; I have been I, if for ever so short a time. And when I am dead, the matter which composes my body is indestructible—and eternal, so that come what may to my ‘Soul,’ my dust will always be going on, each separate atom of me playing its separate part — I shall still have some sort of a finger in the pie. When I am dead, you can boil me, burn me, drown me, scatter me — but you cannot destroy me: my little atoms would merely deride such heavy vengeance. Death can do no more than kill you."
~ W N P Barbellion (Bruce Cummings), author of The Journal of a Disappointed Man (available free, online) by W N P Barbellion (Bruce Cummings), who kept a journal of his struggles with multiple sclerosis for most of his life. It was published in 1919, months before his death.

“Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
~from Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Not enough? Check out
VII (a poem by Wendel Berry, about love and aging). It ends:


...And you, who are as old

almost as I am, I love as I loved you

young, except that, old, I am astonished

at such a possibility, and am duly grateful.

Stressed, Unstressed: Classic Poems to Ease the Mind, edited by Jonathan Bate and Paula Byrne
Poems and Readings for Funerals and Memorials, compiled by Luisa Moncada.
Funeral readings from Gretchen Rubin's podcast listeners
Prayers, poems, and meditations on this website.

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