Category Archives: bereavement

Nothing to be frightened of

I haven’t blogged for some weeks, but the recent news stories around assisted dying prompted me to share with you a fantastic book I have just finished. It is called The Welcome Visitor and is co-written by John Humphrys and Dr Sarah Jarvis. I have touched on this book in a previous post when I was reflecting on the death of my brother-in-law last year see https://unfinishedchristian.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/dignity-and-death/ .

This book is incredibly moving, and I would recommend it to anyone who has not yet mulled over the practical issues around caring for a loved one as they may pay the price for living longer and not dying as you are they would want them to. You see Humphrys and Dr Jarvis deal with the ethical, mental, physical, physiological ,spiritual and practical issues around the death of a loved one with such care, dignity, empathy and humanity. These are people who care about people;  they know what it is to have loved and lost for themselves and they want to see others learn from their experience. They take a wider look at how our attitudes to death have changed as doctors have learned how to prolong life beyond anything that could have been imagined a few generations ago. So, are we keeping people alive because we should or simply because we can? As the book itself outlines; “there are no easy answers, but the first step must be to accept that death can be as welcome as it is inevitable.”

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Healing the world

Yesterday we witnessed a combination of showbiz spectacle and memorial serviceas the family, friends, fans and show business colleagues said goodbye to Michael Jackson at the Staples centre with Michael’s casket in attendance throughout. We heard from civil rights leaders, ministers, politicians, former girl-friends, actors, musicians and movingly from his young daughter what MJ meant to them. A few of them were brave enough to confront the issue of his strangeness and the whispers about his morality and relationships with young children.- innocent until proven guilty was the matra. The crowd stood to applaud a misunderstood, hugely generous humanitarian who made God his motivation for his incredible acts of charity and love.  The show (for it was at least partly that) ended with everyone on stage singing the anthem Heal the world- a song which symbolised the hope and generosity of Jackson who is acknowledged as the pop start who supported the most charities. So the fans had their chance to have some sort of closure on the death of their idol, taken from them unexpectedly when on the brink of a triumphant return ;and the family graciously allowed us a glimpse into their private sorrow. World spectacle and media event it may have been, but there was no doubting the love and grief in the Staples Centre yesterday. Let’s pray that the love Michael Joseph Jackson represented and shared with so many causes will be his legacy and inspire many more to reach out in love to help heal the world.

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Dignity and death

Michael_Marland_2850751‘It’s as natural to die as it is to be born’- Francis Bacon

Today is the first anniversary of my brother-in-law’s death. I think of Michael every day and we all miss him terribly. Michael had an impact on everyone he ever met and most folks I know who met him have an affectionate story to tell. My wife’s parents (both in their late-eighties )were devastated, not just to lose someone younger than themselves but because Michael’s death made them feel fragile and vulnerable. They couldn’t bear to see Michael suffer as the cancer slowly but surely destroyed him to a mere  shadow of the erudite, articulate, intelligent man they knew and loved. It was a terrible day when he finally surrendered to the inevitable, but there was some low-level consolation that he was not suffering any more and that he had been released from the grip of an aggressive illness which had ravaged him in a  few short months. Cancer robbed us of a guy we loved and gave us unbearable pain and sorrow. Linda had shared his love, passion, joys and achievements over the past 22 years and she was there by his bedside to see his last breath and hold his hand as his passed from our reach but not our memory.

It’s probably not good for me but I have been dipping into John Humphrys’ excellent book The Welcome Visitorliving well, dying well. The author Terry Pratchett wrote about it, “The baby boomers have tried to jog away from death and are learning that whatever you do you still end up out of breath. Yet what we dread is not death, but the prospect of an agonising time dying. We should not have to fear it. Thank heavens John is talking about it.” 

In his book Humphrys explores the case for assisted dying for those  who have no hope of recovery from their suffering and pain. It’s something I find hard to come to terms with or confront in terms of the ethical issues it raises, but when I think of what Michael suffered and what he became, I am no longer cast-iron certain. I appreciate what John has to say about what makes life worth living;” Ask doctors or nurses to define the life force and they cannot, any more than an astro-physicist can define the dark matter that makes up most of the universe. But they know when it is there. They have seen it in the chaotic A&E department of a district hospital when the victims of an accident are being brought in; on a cancer ward for the terminally ill; in the hush o fan intensive care unit where a patient fights for life. And they have heard it in the howling cacophony of a maternity hospital where new life is coming into being. They know when it is present and when it begins to fade. And so do those of us who have no medical knowledge or experience but who have witnessed a life nearing its end.”

If you have the privilege to hold the hand of someone who will  breathe their last  in whatever circumstances I pray that you will be able to tell them they are loved and that you will remember these words of Sophocles ; ‘Death is not the greatest of evils; it is worse to want to die and not be able to.’

This post is dedicated to Michael and to Paul

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How long does a man live?

Earlier today I blogged about a prayer for Father’s Day. Within my own family my prayers go out to my nephew Matthew and his half-brothers and sister.  Today they will spend their first Father’s day without their dad. Almost a year on from Michael’s death the sense of hurt, pain and loss is still very tangible within the family and on this day in particular his children will feel very low. Please pray for them as their is much healing and reconciliation needed as people get angry with each other and God about this situation.  In additional please pray for children everywhere who are missing their fathers who are departed, missing or estranged.

I leave you with the tributes paid by Michael’s children Matthew and Ollie at the memorial service last year.

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