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Presence with people on hospice provides stories for books

Influenced by Japanese culture as the daughter of Lutheran missionaries in Japan, Maria Dancing Heart Hoagland served 10 years as a UCC pastor in Hawaii and the Northwest before entering hospice ministry.

Maria Hoaglund
Maria Dancing Heart Hoaglund

Compiling stories from walking with people as they are dying, she self-published 4,000 copies of The Last Adventure of Life: Sacred Resources for Transition in 2005.  The book’s second edition was published in 2008 by Findhorn Press in Scotland and then by Finch Publishing in Australia.

Through her book and through seminars, she seeks to “create a more gentle, loving space for end-of-life care in America and to honor the more than 30 body-mind-spirit healing modalities that help people learn to relax through various life transitions,” she said.

After attending a Japanese school her first eight years, she attended an English school before coming to the United States and entering Yale to major in Japanese history and women’s studies.   She spent two years in Japan before entering Pacific School of Religion in 1980, taking a year of clinical pastoral education in Denver and finishing seminary at Chicago Theological Seminary in 1984.

Ordained as associate minister at the Church of the Crossroads in Honolulu, Hawaii, she served there three years before coming to Seattle in 1987 to serve the bilingual, 50-member Japanese Congregational Church.  After three years as pastor at Lummi Island, she did interim ministries at First Congregational in Everett and Columbia-Lakewood Brethren.  She also trained in spiritual direction from 1994 to 1997.

During her 10 years of working as a hospice bereavement and spiritual counselor, she compiled stories and insights into The Last Adventure of Life as a resource to help people turn from fearing death to embracing it as an adventure.

Hoagland said she geared the book family caring for someone dying, helping them find resources and comfort. 

Her latest book, The Most Important Day of Your Life: Are You Ready, honors many religions and helps people understand the ties of body, mind and spirit.
“All religions have something to offer,” she said.  “We can learn from each other.  Many religions offer a sense of how the body, mind and spirit can help with self care rather than just relying on doctors to fix us.”

Hoaglund realizes that her cross-cultural foundation in Japan is part of her interfaith respect of other religions, valuing Buddhist understandings of death and Shinto ceremonies for weddings.

“I grew up in Japan aware of the war and yearning for peace.  I believe that often wars happen because leaders have not done grief work,” said Hoaglund, who lives in Lynnwood.

“Regardless of our spiritual or religious background, we all face death some day,” she said, hoping her work will help people who are dying and their family and friends become more proactive and comfortable in conversing about death.
Through her work, she hopes people will be able to view death, grief and transformation of all kinds in new ways—as adventures and gifts that are part of the cycle of life.

For information, call 425-361-1953 or email


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © June 2010


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