There is nothing new about dying. Whilst this statement is factually correct it is also the reality when it comes to the way most of us talk about and deal with death.
Being the son of a priest meant that my sister and I grew up in an environment where a hammer was frequently taken to the sugar-coating surrounding all things death related. It wasn’t unusual to hear a loud frustrated voice booming ‘He’s not resting, he’s dead! Snuffed it! Stiff as a board!’ from my father’s study; to this day he doesn’t take kindly to funeral directors telling him they are ‘looking after someone’ or that someone has ‘sadly passed away’ – as far as he’s concerned the sentimentalised smoke and mirrors get in the way of the matter in hand. Someone has died.
I stood at West Norwood crematorium last week watching my friend, in his technicoloured Dr Who themed coffin, being removed from the hearse. It was a very sad affair, not least as he died in his thirties – a final epileptic fit leaving him to be found in his room by his housemates and boyfriend. What struck me from the beginning of the funeral was the awkwardness of it all. Without it being a point of accusation, it was a stark reminder of how foreign dealing with death is for most of us. There was a lot of waiting, a lot of black, a lot of wanting to do the right thing, plenty of tears and a desperate grapple for appropriate etiquette. The coffin was a refreshing juxtaposition.
The International Longevity Centre (ILC) warned last week that the UK is facing a ‘Funeral Time Bomb’ due to the ageing population. More death, more pressure on the funeral industry, increased prices and no more space in the ground.
Perhaps if we were more able to talk about death then the heavy cloak of forced protocol would be removed and we would be able to accept death more readily. I believe that it is only then that we will be able to address some of the concerns that ILC have highlighted – we could plan better, save better and ensure that whatever way we take our final curtain call is fit for purpose for us as individuals and as a wider community.
This blog post is featured on the ILC-UK website, see here.