Sitting with the Dead


Trevor, William


Short Story


Born in County Cork, Ireland in 1928, celebrated fiction writer William Trevor was educated at University College, Dublin, and worked as a sculptor, teacher and copywriter before turning full-time to writing fiction. His stories often feature psychologically subtle and penetrating portraits of socially marginal people burdened with regret for past failures and mistakes. The protagonist of "Sitting with the Dead" is a childless widow, Emily, who on the evening of her husband’s death is visited by the Misses Geraghty, two sisters from the Legion of Mary who make a practice of sitting at the bedsides of the dying. Emily reacts to her husband’s death differently than the bereaved usually do, and she reveals unsettling things about her long marriage. The story raises profound questions about the nature and meaning of service, to the living and the dead.

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A Bit on the Side, by William Trevor. (New York: Viking, 2004).




Health and HealingLove and CompassionServing and VolunteeringWisdom and Contemplation

Big Questions

How do we respond to the suffering of others? How would we like others to respond to our own?How does healing occur? What makes it possible?How do we define love? How do we show love?How does a person learn compassion?What does empathy look like?Why do we serve?How can contemplation change our actions?


Hearing the Call Across Traditions

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why do the Geraghty sisters sit with the dead? What do they hope to provide to those who mourn?
  2. Why is Emily reluctant to let the Geraghty’s into her home? Why does she allow them in?
  3. Is the Geraghty’s company helpful to Emily? If so, what do they give her? If not, why?
  4. Why does Norah Geraghty suggest that Emily was dead? What is so strange about this visit to the Geraghtys?
  5. What obligations do we have to the memories of the dead? How should they be served and why?
  6. How can we best serve those who have experienced a great loss?
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