Guess Who’s Dead?

A 107 people world wide die every minute that’s who and that’s a lot of people so the chances of you knowing someone who has died in the past few months is reasonably high. Certainly higher than the chance of you winning the lottery this or any other week. So what’s the point of this week’s blog apart from a useless fact that is? Were you aware that last week was dying matters awareness week? No? Neither was I.

That got me to thinking that most people are still uncomfortable talking about death or the impending death of someone they know. Friends who called around or rang all the time disappear off the face of the Earth as though they had died out of sympathy. It’s not that they don’t care often it is the fact that they care so much which keeps them away. They are embarrassed partly because there is nothing they can do and partly because they are not sure if they should talk about “it” or not. Hoping that if they don’t talk about “it”, it will just go away and everything will be alright. If only everything in life and death were so simple.

In fact many people find it hard to talk to loved ones or family about death only sex is higher on the list of taboo topics with loved ones. But here’s the crazy thing it costs money ( no will exists ), gives angst and grief to those left behind and of course no one knows your wishes. For example how you might want certain care at the end of your life you might wish to die at home or in a hospice. You may want to donate your organs or leave some money to your favourite charity. It is highly probable that none of these will happen unless you talk to your family about it.

The second thought that occurred to me is that I myself have reached that age where grandparents are a memory (apart from nana still going strong at 93). My mother died of cancer a few years ago as did her mother and sister and both my wife’s grandfather’s died a couple of years earlier. The grim reaper is still having his fun with us as friends, colleagues and other’s we have known who made a difference to our lives have shuffled off this mortal coil.

With each passing of a person I have known and cared about I grieve but I wonder if I am becoming comfortable and familiar with death? I used to fear it but now it’s a constant in my life it comes around almost more often than having to empty the bins. I am not being callous here just stating a fact that I am more stoic around death than I used to be more accepting that it’s here to stay and will claim me one day (not to soon I hasten to add).

The Dying Matters Awareness Week campaign states it is working to ease the pain of bereavement and terminal illness. You can support that by going to see or ringing family and friends in this situation. If your worried about appearing foolish or don’t know what to speak about then ask the person do they want to talk about “it”. Some do and some don’t be guided by them listen to what they are saying and go with the flow of the conversation. If they want to talk about it ask them have they made all the necessary arrangements. You will feel much better for having done this and so will they. The website Dying Matters has lots more information.

Finally to boost your spirits here are a few more facts about death that will make you smile. Courtesy of William Hartston at the Daily Express.

• In 2008 the mayor of Sarpourenx in France banned villagers from dying and threatened severe punishments to offenders. Apparently the cemetery was too full

• William Gladstone and Dr Barnardo are the only people whose coffins have travelled on London’s tube trains.

• Meanwhile back in France in 1928 French golfers voted to sentence a blackbird to death for stealing dozens of golf balls from the Saint-Germain golf course near Paris

• Finally in Bhutan it is considered unlucky to die at the age of 81, why I don’t know but I’ll leave you to research that one yourselves.


The Power of the Word – Poetry and Prayer

I read about the Poetry and Prayer Conference held at Heythrop College after co-authoring an article about the Catholic Church banning the musical note known as “The Devil’s Interval” in the 16th century.  Black Sabbath used the note effectively to create their demonic and nihilistic image But I digress.

The conference at Heythrop was attended by theologians, philosophers, literary scholars and creative writers and they debated the following questions:

  • What do poetry and prayer share?
  • How do they differ?
  • In what ways do they relate to each other?

Just as you would not think of linking the Church and Black Sabbath in the same sentence I had never thought of poetry and prayer in terms of each other and the effect they had on the person.

Whilst the conference discussed specific religious texts and works from particular authors and poets. I am more interested in the effect both have on your wellbeing and inner spiritual strength.  That spiritual strength does not necessarily need to come from religion. “W.H. Auden wrote: ‘to pray is to pay attention to something or someone other than oneself. Whenever a man so concentrates his attention – on a landscape, a poem, a geometrical problem, an idol, or the True God – that he completely forgets his own ego and desires, he is praying.’”

Atheists may not agree with the viewpoint that they are praying when reading poetry which reinforces the point that we have no shared understanding of the terms ‘prayer’ and ‘poetry’. Yet as tourists many of them will attend a service at one of our historic cathedrals such as York or Wells and come away with a feeling of inner peace, tranquility or a feeling of spirituality if you like.  If you’re an atheist and you’ve had that feeling I’d be interested in knowing how you would describe it.

Poetry is obviously not prayer but I and many others have experienced the same feeling of elation, joy and of spirituality from both. So they differ but can elicit the same feeling in people of a religious and non religious nature. Does that mean they are related? Looking at a wider context Music, Art and the wonders of nature and the natural world can produce those same feelings in us all.

So is it the words rather than what they represent that is the connection between the two?

The Next Poetry and Prayer Conference : Continuities & Discontinuities takes place at Heythrop College 29-30 June 2012

Thanks to Heythrop College and Charlotte Henson for the inspiration in my writing this piece