Thursday, September 08, 2005

Of worms and epitaphs

Just before the madness of Greenbelt took over here, Tony posted about “The LAST thing we talk about”, drawing attention to the sad fact that even the clergy rarely find themselves invited or enabled to talk about death and dying, however often we visit those about to travel that road. He lamented the lost honesty of bygone days, when preparing the dying for their death was a regular part of the priestly ministry, and what he saw as his own collusion with a culture that sweeps such unpleasantness firmly under the carpet. At the time, I commented that though I shared his frustration at one level, I wasn’t at all sure I would actually cope if the situation arose
I am guiltily relieved in that I don’t honestly know what I would say…how I could help them with the process of letting go…I don't know what it would feel like, for goodness sake! To know I was about to leave those I love most in the world..I may have, on a good day, a firm sense that it is not a disaster…but to help others to say Goodbye,- oh, that’s a very different matter.”

Well, the situation is about to arise now….in the less emotionally charged context of a parish “Food for Thought” bring-and-share lunch. These are new to St M’s (I really ought to refrain from having bright ideas…it only ends in tears). The plan is that there’s some input from a speaker (this time its the clergy), on a topic suggested by members of the congregation, followed by small group discussion, then a plenary and tea. The aim is as much to encourage the congregation to get to know each other as to educate anyone, which is probably just as well given the nominated topic for Sunday 18th. I’ve entitled the session “Where do we go from here? A look at death and the hereafter, with many questions but few answers” and now, of course, I’m hunting for material.
What do you think really should be included in the input? Have you any favourite quotations or stories it might be good to hear? And above all, can you think of any questions that might launch those assembled (goodness knows if there will be 6 or 60) into excited and fruitful discussion.
By coincidence, Maggi posted a wonderful piece by Stewart Henderson on her blog today, which I am definitely including…but everything else is up for grabs.
I’d specially appreciate any ideas of good questions. If all else fails, perhaps I should just direct those present to the mydeath site, where they can choose exactly what they want to happen in terms of arrangements after the event...John Davies writes more about the project, which I also encountered at Greenbelt. I haven't got round to registering my choices yet, but I probably shall. In the course of writing this, I had a phonecall from the funeral director handling one of three services I'm taking tomorrow. This one's for a lady who lived alone, without any close friends or family, and her service is being arranged through her solicitor, who has decided, in his infinite wisdom, that despite the likelihood of a miniscule congegation, we really ought to sing both Ps 23 to "Crimond" and (how much worse can things get?) "Abide with Me". Yup...the sooner I prepare to die, the better.


Lorna said...

conducting a funeral of someone with no friends or family must be pretty grim, whatever the choice of music :(

love and hugs for you for tomorrow.

SpookyRach said...

I agree with Lorna. Hope it goes well. (The funeral and the food for thought.)

Apostle John said...

I was surprised to read one of the blogs you linked to -- THE LAST THING WE TALK ABOUT. I always find it comforting to talk openly about death, but I am often surprised at those who feel obligated to avoid the topic. The only time I ever felt any hesitation was when it was with my own Dad, not long ago.

Tom Long had a great lecture in Chicago earlier this year, at the Homeletics Festival, and he addressed the fact that we do not teach people to die. While I have a comfort level in talking one on one with people about death, I have to admit that I have not done much teaching on the congregational level.