Apologies for the relative silence last week – it’s been a very busy period and while I have still tried to be reflective I haven’t had much chance to put fingers to keyboard and share those reflections with you.
I also ought to warn you that this bloggage is about death, so if you are feeling like you can’t cope with that at the moment you might like to look at another of my earlier bloggages… I understand.
January 2016 seems to have been a month in which more high profile people have died than is usual. Each announcement has been met with sadness, grief, gratitude for the impact the person made on the national consciousness, and expressions of condolence towards the immediate family and friends who mourn their death. I wonder whether the amount of time and space that is given to commemoration of those who have died is partly due to a failure to appreciate people sufficiently in life. It is right that we do this. It is good that we remember and recognise that death is part of life.
It is much less healthy for us individually and as a society if death is the morbid elephant in the room of life. We know it is there but we don’t want to mention it or talk about it. Perhaps there is even a degree of superstition that if we talk about it then we will awaken death and it will rear its ugly head again so if we keep quiet, all will be well. We know that this is not true, but we seem to act as if it is. I wonder whether if we do not talk about death bereavement hits us harder because we are unprepared for it.
Death is terribly sad for those who mourn the death of someone they love. It releases many emotions such as loss, regret, grief, pain, emptiness and sometimes is so overwhelming that our emotions shut down and we feel numbness and shock. It is horrible. It is awful. In the gospel records of Jesus’ life we read how he loathed death and resented moments when it encroached into his experience of life. He grieved the death of friends, he himself did not want to die. We know how he felt.
But (and I do not diminish the impact, significance and emotional pain of death when it takes someone we love away from us) if death is not seen and talked about as a part of life we perpetuate the fantasy that it will not happen to someone we know and love… until that fantasy is torn apart by death itself. We can almost pretend it doesn’t happen.
We don’t help ourselves by euphemising death, either. We talk of someone ‘passing away’, ‘going home’, ‘leaving us’, ‘going to sleep’, ‘going to the next room’ and many more. But, and I am sorry if this is blunt, the reality is that the person has died. Some euphemisms suggest that they could come back, that they are nearby, that it’s not final. But (forgive me for being blunt again) death is final. It is the one certainty in life* – we will all die.
I am not suggesting that we cultivate a morbid fascination with death. I am not saying that we should talk about it all the time. But I am suggesting that it would be healthier for us as individuals and as a society if we talked about it from time to time. Talk with your relatives about your will. Talk with those who may have to make arrangements for your funeral service about what you would like (they will be grateful when it comes to it). Talk about how you feel when someone has died. Share memories of that person – not to pretend that they are still with us – so that the impact they made on us is not lost and the significance of their life is underlined by their death.
And if you know someone who has experienced bereavement don’t tiptoe around them, don’t wrap them in cotton wool, don’t patronise them. I think that often we say nothing and avoid people who are bereft because we don’t want to say the wrong thing and don’t know what to say. But that can add to the sense of isolation and loss. I think it is unlikely that any of you would say anything insensitive or cruel to someone who is mourning the death of a loved one, so talk with them, listen to them, ask them about the person who has died, if you don’t know what to say sit in silence with them, even pray with them (and for them).
And, as a follower of Jesus, I also want to say that although physical death is the end of our experience of this life, he promises that the life in all its fullness which begins here and now, through faith, will stretch into an experience beyond time: eternity in God’s presence. Death hurts, it stings, but it is not the last word.
Be blessed, be a blessing
*It used to be death and taxes but as some large corporations have found ways of avoiding tax we can’t rely on the latter.