Do you ever think about death? Your own death, or someone else’s. How it’ll happen. Where. And when. How do you respond – in the moment and in an ongoing way – when someone tells you a significant person in their life has died? Have you got to grips with all the practicals that need dealing with in relation to your own death? Are you one of the vast majority who haven’t!? Do you realise what the consequences of that will be….? Have you got any idea why you don’t want to go there? And do you have any sense of how that could be affecting the quality of your life, now, and from day to day?
Denial of death runs rampant through our culture. We’re all affected by this and it can leave us woefully unprepared when it’s our time to die – or our time to help others die. Some people rise magnificantly to this occasion. Sadly, we often aren’t available for those who need us, paralysed as we are by anxiety and resistance – nor are we ‘available’, able to be present, for ourselves and the opportunities of our own dying and death process.
It doesn’t have to be like this and there are signs that things are, slowly, changing for the better. In 2009 the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) set up Dying Matters to change public knowledge, attitudes and behaviour and promote public awareness of dying, death and bereavement. It’s a broad based and inclusive national (British) coalition. This year it’s Awareness Week is 13-19 May and the theme is ‘Be Ready for it’. The five crucial actions it’s encouraging us all to do are:
1. make a will
2. record your funeral wishes
3. plan your future care and support
4. register as an organ donor and
5. tell your loved ones your wishes.
There’s a huge variety of ways you can get involved in this week from simply tweeting to running an event. And Dying Matters produces lots of resources to support this involvement, from postcards to banners. There are currently 30,000 members, counting, and it’s free to join. Simply visiting their website may help you, and others, start those conversations… it’s www.dyingmatters.org
I’ve been a member of Dying Matters since it started in 2009. Seven years before that, in Australia 2002, I started running workshops and retreats about death. Since then I’ve run events ranging from one day workshops to ten day retreats in Britain and Ireland. I began this work after a barrage of personal bereavements during my 30’s (in the 90’s). Around the same time I began practising in the Buddhist tradition – teachings which have much to offer the area of change, impermanence and death – and then trained as a bereavement counsellor in 2000.
I call my events ‘death and the only beauty that lasts’ after a line from the Sufi poet Rumi – “the only beauty that lasts is the beauty of the human heart.” Though often still resistant to turning towards this topic, I nevertheless always find it rich, moving, rewarding and fall back in love with life all over again. It’s no mistake the greatest literature is about love and death. They’re not so different really. Except perhaps we can fear love even more than we fear death….
The five crucial actions (listed above) that this year’s Dying Matters awareness week urges us to take is a big ask. Sometimes dealing with the practical stuff is simply a matter of getting down to it, making decisions, doing the paperwork. Just as often it can open a can of worms. And, to continue from my opening paragraph, begs more questions.
What about the emotional stuff too, life’s ‘baggage’, that most of us have? What tools do we use to deal with that? Death is a vast ‘subject’. Many issues can arise under its heading. What do you think death is, do you know where your ideas about it come from, and do your views accord with your experience? How do you relate to time? How do you relate to the unknown and the uncertainty of not knowing? Though undoubtedly a painful time, bereavement may also reveal the beauty and tenderness in sadness and open us to opportunites and insights. That’s certainly been my experience.
Ideally, given that we’re all going to die, everybody would benefit from getting to grips with the basic practicals. I’d say the bottom line is writing a will, making a funeral plan, and communicating about that with the relevant people. I cover that ground in all my courses and that can be a stand alone one day workshop. Invite me. Looking deeper into this topic isn’t for everybody. If it is for you and you’d like to explore your relationship with death on an experiential journey, with a (usually small) group of kindred spirits, in beautiful surroundings, check out one of my longer workshops. Sadly, there’s no events in north wales to mark the Dying Matters week in May (I’m leading a retreat in Suffolk 12-17 May which you’re welcome to travel over to!) There’s always next year, assuming we’re still around…. 🙂 Thank you for reading this. In solidarity and peace.
For more info, to book, and to keep in touch with my future events by signing up for my monthly newsletter, visit janparker.co.uk or 01766 771801 – 07909 643221.
dates for courses in north wales:
18-20 Oct, Llanbedr,
4-8 Nov, Anglesey beach house
tbc 31 Oct, Halloween for grown-ups: day workshop, eve film screening and taking circle, Tremadog