Awaiting the birth of a new baby is full of hope and excitement and, as with any momentous moment, also a little fear and nervousness. Antenatal classes do their best to prepare the expectant parents. A special place or room is prepared at home with decorations, and toys and one or two special clothes. A cot and pushchair are placed on order as expectations grow and the moment of birth draws closer. Although it is never enough, we try our hardest to be as best prepared as we can.
And once born and the arrival of new life has been celebrated, there is one inevitability that is kept a secret, that by unspoken agreement we refrain from talking about. And those who break this pact are regarded as doom mongers, people to be avoided, harbingers of bad luck.
The truth that we are all trying so hard to avoid is that we are all going to die. Although it is the one absolute certainty of our lives nobody wants to talk about it. Where are the ante-mortem classes, where are the signs of preparation at home, where are the conversations about choice of our final resting place and of our type of coffin?
Death has become increasingly hidden away. Once around every parish church, at the heart of each community, was a graveyard, where there was always the sight of a fresh burial and as the hearse drove by all would stop and stand in silence and men would doff their hats. Now Crematorium are built in out of the way the locations where only those who need to use them pass by and the passing of the hearse is regarded as an encumbrance to speeding traffic.
Yet for all the pact of secrecy, and however hard we try to avoid it death will come. And whilst public conversations about this subject are few and far between, each of us, if we are honest, will find ourselves pondering our own death, not least its when, where and how?
So can we change this death avoiding culture? If there are preparations for birth, can we not also have preparation for death? Death Café, and the Church of England version, Grave Talk, provide an opportunity, over tea and cake to talk about death, dying and funerals. Such occasions seek to provide a chance to talk about death, think about your funeral, ask questions, air your thoughts.
To face up to death, to even dare to befriend death, helps both us and those we leave behind. This is not just a conversation for when we know our last days are approaching but to think about now when we are relatively fit and healthy. Such conversations help us take stock of our lives and re-assess our priorities. It means when others may have to make decisions on our behalf, when perhaps we are too weak, too confused, to express our wishes, they will know what we would want. And when we die it is a great comfort for our loved ones to know that they are following our wishes. The best funerals are when we know that the hymns, reading and music are exactly what the deceased would have wished; it makes the service one last precious shared experience.
Norwich Cathedral seeks to be a safe place to have difficult conversations. So amidst the season of Remembrance, and when some in the city will be marking the Mexican Festival of the Dead, the Cathedral is organising, in the Weston Room, Grave Talk on Saturday 11th November, 10.00am – 12noon. There will be tea and cake. There will be talk. There will be questions. This is for people of all faiths and doubts; drop in any time. There will be resources to help you think about these last things of life. There will be a solicitor, a funeral director, a priest and other people like yourself wanting a chance to talk about death.
It is time to break the taboo, to talk about the inevitable and learn to be as comfortable talking about death as about birth. Some may want to say that this is all too depressing but those who have learnt to engage in grave talk find it brings, comfort, re-assurance and peace. None of this to deny the fear, anxiety or sorrow that thoughts of death may also bring but it is to dare to say that it is love not death that has the final say in life.