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the Friend INDEPENDENT QUAKER JOURNALISM SINCE 1843
CONTENTS – VOL 168 NO 12 3 We need to talk about death
Judith Moran 4 Compassion, love and acceptance:
the Quaker concern on death and dying Jill Kenner and Alison Leonard 5 Dying to Know – bringing death to life
Julia Brown 6-7 Letters 8-9 The greatest campaign of the twenty-first century? Sarah Wootton 10-11 A good send-off?
Judith Moran 12 Honouring death through dance
Linda Murgatroyd 13 The final taboo
Linda Banks 14 No room for tears
An ex-offender 15 Friends & Meetings 16-17 Resources: The end?
Cover image: ‘When I was first diagnosed and I understood that cancer may radically shorten my life, the thought that most upset me was that I may not know my grandchildren… so I decided to make two “story quilts” so there’s one for each of my sons’ families’.
Nicci Crowther, who died in 2008.
With the support of family and friends, two quilts were made. The cover shows one square, sewn by Nicci’s cousin Barbara, who chose the hare because: ‘The leaping hare is magical to me. Hares are very secretive and mysterious creatures, and whenever I’ve seen one I’ve felt lucky.’ Photo: Colin Luke. Image on this page: Photo of a Victorian family holding a dead child for a final family picture. There was an interesting phenomena in the midnineteenth century whereby it was common practice to have a portrait taken of a loved one after death, with higher rates of child mortality especially, parents may not have had a chance to take a photograph of their child (no home photographs and professional ones expensive). Photographers often advertised that they were available to take pictures of the dead with an hour’s notice. Photo: netannette/flickr CC:BY.
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the Friend, 19 March 2010 from our guest editor
We need to talk about death
A group of children were in a workshop in their primary school. ‘What is death?’ they were asked. Easy. The answers came out quickly. Lack of breathing. Lack of movement. Gone. Forever. ‘So, what is life?’ they were asked. Not so easy, of course. The children um-ed and ah-ed and stumbled over their answers. Don’t we all?
The Natural Death Centre’s perspective is that: ‘A preparation for dying is a preparation for living’. Our life is finite and to reflect that it will one day end can lead to a greater appreciation of life, a spiritual journey, a desire to seize the day or to smell the roses.
Yet, where to begin? There are many matters to consider: practical issues (cremation or burial?) financial matters (what about a will?), concerns about health and illness (do I want my life prolonged as long as possible, or not?), coping with a bereavement (how will I manage?). Big and painful questions. Maybe the greatest challenge is finding a way to talk about these issues openly in the first place?
In his Richard Dimbleby lecture last month, Terry Pratchett, contemplating the possibility of an undignified death given his own Alzheimer’s, spoke movingly of wanting to have a death of his choosing. He reflected that it was only when Richard Dimbleby himself died, in the 1960s, and his family said he had died of cancer, that the taboo over using the c-word started to lift. He felt that now, so many years later, our aversion to death, to the d-word, was starting to shift:‘There is something in the air, an idea whose time is really coming’.
Over recent months, the subject of death, particularly assisted suicide, has received great prominence, with the court cases of two mothers (Frances Inglis and Kay Gilderdale) who ended the lives of their severely disabled adult children. One walked free, one was sentenced to life. Do we understand the legal distinctions in these cases? What are our views of their actions? What would we do?
This week is Dying Matters Awareness Week, a governmentfunded campaign to engage us all more in thinking – and talking – about death. There are a group of Friends who, for over a year now, have been doing just that and, in this special edition, we will read their latest reflections. We will learn about a book, Dying to Know, published this week. The subtitle of the book is bringing death to life and that’s the aim of the book – to inspire conversations, reflections and actions regarding ageing, dying and how we wish to be remembered. We will also hear about the motivations of Sarah Wootton, from Dignity in Dying, to pursue the campaign to legalise assisted suicide. We are looking at what happens after a death. We approach this creatively, reviewing Soul Play, a production set in the moments after a death, as a young man’s soul leaves his body. We also look at this spiritually, by hearing about the immediate aftermath of a bereavement and also practically, with a few resources to guide your thinking further.
And then there is the funeral itself. In the centre pages we unveil Quaker Social Action’s new project, Down to Earth, which will offer a practical and a social intervention for people in east London living on low incomes faced with the daunting task of planning – and paying for – a funeral.
So, in this special edition, we want to take you on an exploratory journey about death, we want to be informative, thought-provoking, maybe even inspirational.
As the illustration prods us: ‘If you knew when it was coming, would you do anything differently? Why wait?’ Why indeed.
Judith is of director of Quaker Social Action and can be contacted at email@example.com
See www.dyingmatters.org for more information about the Awareness Week.
Photo: Trish Carn
If you knew when it was coming would you do anything differently?
the Friend, 19 March 2010