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"Make it Stop"

Life - or more precisely, death - goes on in Dibley and instead of slowing down for spring it seems to be increasingly impacting my little church.  (As I type that I suddenly feel self-conscious, I recently heard another minister saying it annoyed them for other ministers to refer to churches as 'mine'.  I think I get his drift but what other word should I say?  'Our' perhaps).  Yesterday I had two visits to a Leicester hospital where one of my folk is spending their final days/weeks because the professionals thought that yesterday might be 'it' (as it happened it wasn't) fitted around two services (D+1 (cluster pulpit swap) and the local Penties), today I am interring the ashes of another and on Friday conduct the funeral for the brother of yet another.  Updating some my folk yesterday, one of them said 'make it stop, I'm bored of death now.'

This made me think.  Why is it we become like little children wanting nasty (as we perceive it) things to stop or go away?  Why is it that despite our oft quoted Christian hope we still find death so difficult?  And is it OK to get 'bored' with it?

One day last week a few of us were talking about the requests for last week's funeral (ashes today) that everyone wear something red, and got onto the mechanics of funerals at crematoria.  I commented that I quite often have to deal with mis-concpetions such as 'the coffin goes through' i.e. straight into the cremator, the moment the curtains close or people who think they can collect the ashes on their way out as well as all the myths about district heating, reused coffins and mixed up remains.  One person stated very strongly 'I'd rather not know.'  And I found myself wondering 'why?'

It seems to me that in 21st century Britain (and most of 20th century Britain) we have got too far removed from death - it mainly happens in hospital, the last offices are carried out by a nurse, the undertaker does all the work of preparation and, for the most part, we arrive at a clinical crematorium to greet a shiny wooden box adorned with several hundred pounds worth of hot house flowers.  Add to this the general decline in a sense of hope beyond the grave - how many people actually have a clue what I mean when I speak of 'sure and certain hope' - and the incredible efforts to extend/prolong life at all costs (or so it seems) and it is no wonder people want it all to go away.

What a marked shift from the wonderful description of death in the hymn 'All creatures of our God and King':


And thou, most kind and gentle death

Waiting to hush our latest breath

O praise him, alleluia

Thou leadest home the child of God

And Christ, the Lord, the way hath trod

O praise him, alleluia


One of my favourite explorations (no, I don't mean explanations) of death is in the children's bereavement book 'Waterbugs and Dragonflys' which sees it as absolutely natural and a mere, but inevitable, transition from one form of life to another.

Make it stop?  Sorry, no can do.  And on reflection why would I want to anyway?  As the 'teacher' in Ecclesiastes says "there is a time to be born and a time to die."  I wouldn't mind a few less two-part funerals all at once, and I wouldn't mind it all being shared a little more widely than this shrinking little church, but I think what is really needed is a change in our thinking not a change in in the natural order of things.


  • Yes. Philippians 1 vv 21-27 comes to mind. I can understand people being scared of the unknown (how will we die? will it hurt? will it last a long time?). But death itself is surely a relief from all the torment of this world - the only reason why we don't want to die immediately is because we have a chance to serve God in this world in a way that we won't be able to subsequently.

  • Sometimes I notice people getting weary of death when they are surrounded by the deaths of those close to them. Each bereavement becomes a 'little death' of the social networks that give them identity.

    When my mother entered her seventies it seemed that every visit home included an account of friends who had died in the last month.

    Our hope is sure and certain, but even Paul had to reassure the Thessalonians that it was not negated by death or our feelings about it.

  • Some very valid points in this post!
    You are right - we have sanitised death to the point where so many people have no idea what goes on in terms of the 'mechanics' of funerals - and where some of the sentimental explanations given to children [eg Grandad is up in heaven and you can go out and see his star twinkling in the sky] are somehow clung on to in adulthood by some people.
    I was quite surprised to hear a GP say last week that he had not actually seen a dead body until some months after he actually qualified, he had not been around to witness the death of a family member, and it did not form part of his training either.
    I believe very strongly that children should be included in family funerals - my own kids were 9 & 7 when my Mum died, and they have never had any hangups about attending funerals, it is a normal event of life for them.
    I take Tim's point - and his ref to Phil 1. But I am not sure I am as spiritual as he is - he says the 'only' reason to not want immediate death is so he can serve God here. Maybe it is the only valid one - but I can think of a number of reasons why I'd quite like to make it till next Saturday!
    In the event that I don't, though, I DO know where I am going - hallelujah [oh, and I'd like the Co-op in Leicester to do the undertaking please. Not G&G. And Loughborough not Gilroes]
    We have just put together a handout for people, so they can lodge their 'funeral arrangement requests' in our church safe. that way when they do die, the family can check out what hymns etc they wanted.

  • Thanks all - wow that got us all thinking/talking didn't it!

    I am inclined to agree with Angela that there are quite a lot of reasons I'd like to stay in this life for (a lot) longer. I've never quite got to the Pauline position over death but have come to recognise my own selfishness in wanting God to give me longer to do the things I want/look forward to.

    I like the idea from Angela about church folk lodging funeral requests at the church. And about Gilroes for that matter - am due there Friday to lead for first time, oh joy! At least the sun shone for this morning's burial of 'cremated remains' as we must now term them.

  • Doubt I'm more spiritual, Angela! More a case of being weary of the state of the world and wanting something better. If I can help change the world that's a good reason for staying in it, but to be quite honest the thought of doing another 50 years fills me with dread. 25 would be quite enough. So for me it's a conflict between the selfishness of wanting something better for myself now, and wanting to relieve the suffering for others by serving God in the here and now.

    Philippians is an extremely comforting book to me because that passage (and many others in it) validate instincts I have which might oherwise seem a bit strange and wrong.

  • Our local crematorium used to have open days! One Sunday a year they would open their doors (including oven doors!) and show the public behind the scenes. I remember as a child my mum taking me round and we looked at some ashes of someone who had been recently cremated. The guide explained to us that if we looked close we could see some remnants of metal parts that this person had had inserted over the years.
    A trip to your local crematorium would make an interesting (though probably less popular) alternative to the monthly Dibley pub lunch!

  • Wow Richard, were you scarred for life by the experience?! We had to do this as part of minister-training and I found it really interesting. We actually went on a working day so got to see maybe a little more than even you did...

    Our local crems do have such days I believe - but my peeps might push me in if I took them there! ;-)

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