Talking about death has always been something of a taboo in this country, but things are beginning to change. Chaplains in hospitals and hospices, Funeral Directors and others are encouraging people to plan ahead, both in detail and more generally, to talk about issues ahead of time. Read on to find out how the Church of England is part of this change.
Talking about death and dying
For many years, the western world has been somewhat reticent when it comes to talking about death, but there has been a recent shift in these attitudes. Within and outside of church structures and groups, the emergence of conversation spaces, often in a café format, have started to spring up, giving people an opportunity to talk in an accessible way about death, dying and funerals.
The Church of England has vast experience in holding questions and experiences in this area. It is also very good at tea and cake and has the kind of spaces which can easily become café spaces.
The Church of England has trialled one approach for this, called GraveTalk – a café space to talk about death, dying and funerals in a church-led context. Parishes are encouraged to set up café-style events, using a host and facilitator. There is also a facilitators’ pack which explains how to run an event.
The GraveTalk discussion cards provide an easy way in to start the conversation – there are 52 questions on a range of topics, no answers, just thought provoking.
Events are always started and ended with prayer, and space is made for rituals such as candle lighting etc.
If you belong to a church that would like to try a GraveTalk event and you’d like to order the GraveTalk cards and a Facilitators’ Guide, you can order them from Church House Publishing.
GraveTalk has been monitored and researched by a team at Staffordshire University with this report from Dr Peter Kevern, Associate Professor in Values in Care.
The potential for deep conversations at these events is obvious.
David Primrose, who led the trial of GraveTalk in the Diocese of Lichfield, said it had been welcomed by parishes: “When your parish has run one session of GraveTalk, then you will want it to become a regular part of your ministry.”
Research among the recently bereaved found that feelings of regret can linger with those who were left with the task of planning a funeral, because they were dissatisfied with the choices they made for their loved one. These regrets may even last a lifetime.
The regret comes from:
- Wanting to give the person who died the kind of ‘good send off’ which they would have liked themselves, but having no or very little knowledge of the kind of choices the person would have made, and wanting to give thanks for their life, but knowing little about their personal story.
- An inability to think clearly in a time of distress can lead to making choices that ‘will do’ at the time, but then later on wishing that one had spent more time thinking about it.
- Not having the finances in place to pay for the ‘ideal’ funeral.
Groups in the Church of England and in organisations like Dying Matters have tried to address this need by encouraging families to talk together about death, dying and funerals. A new resource from the Church of England is being developed to help people plan ahead for their own funeral – watch this space for news of when it is available.
And funeral pre-payments plans have also been encouraged to help alleviate the financial burden of a funeral on the grieving family.
The Church of England funerals website offers some encouragement on planning ahead, but as well as supporting bereaved families, talking about death and dying has much longer term and much deeper implications for the church’s ministry at the time of death.