More honest talking about death would make us all feel less helpless

Oxford Mail: The Bishop of Oxford The Bishop of Oxford

The Rev John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford

It’s funny how it often happens. Since Easter a whole lot of people I have known and respected have died.

It happens after Christmas too. I can’t explain it. It’s as if they wait for the great festivals and then let go.

Several have died after long illness or deterioration, others quite suddenly.

In each case there’s an absence, a hole, a space. In each case there is bewilderment and strangeness, a deep shifting of emotional and mental furniture.

You know the saying that the only things no-one can avoid are death and taxes.

Well, some people can avoid taxes; no-one can avoid death. But do we talk about it? No.

Enter death cafes. Have you heard of them?

There have been 800 of them around the world since 2011, where people gather over cake and coffee with a single topic of conversation – death.

If that sounds morbid, apparently they’re not.

It isn’t a group of older people sitting around getting depressed. It’s a group of all ages getting excited.

The purpose is to make our finite lives as special as they can be, and the results sound rather extraordinary. People love these events and go away energised and stimulated to get on with life.

It sounds completely counter-intuitive, but that’s life (or rather, death).

In the Diocese of Oxford we have another similar project running. Joanna Collicutt runs groups for people who want to face death in an adult way and explore the meaning of death realistically and hopefully. Again, people are liberated by having the opportunity to talk about something that everyone thinks about and nobody mentions.

Perhaps we’re beginning to see the point.

We talk more freely now about sex, politics and religion. The last taboo is death. Get that out and then everything is on the table.

To Christians all this should seem entirely natural.

At the heart of our faith is a death. But the flip side of the cross is an empty tomb. We are an Easter people, celebrating the defeat of death in a breath-taking, jaw-dropping event we call the resurrection.

Easter was the day death died. And the day the Christian faith was born.

A former Archbishop of Canterbury put it very simply: ‘No resurrection, no Christianity.’ Death touches us all and a little more honest talking about it would make us feel less helpless and alone.

Death cafes are one way of having those conversations. Talking to a partner is another.

Let’s not be shy about the one thing that unites us all.

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