Category Archives: death

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 .

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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Filed under bereavement, death, ethics, suicide

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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The Young are worried to death

According to recent research from Theos,50% of the population fear the process of dying. Twenty percent admitted to fearing both the way they will die and death itself, while 30% said they fear the way they will die but not death itself. A surprisingly large 25% claimed to fear neither death nor the method of their demise. Surprisingly the highest proportion of people fearing both death and they way they will die is 18-24 year olds (26% compared with a 20% national average).

So what does this research suggest- that young people are not feeling as immortal and sometimes they suggest? Is it that there is a breakdown in the over arcing religious narrative in our culture? Do these people have a lack of experience in dealing with death? Theos suggests we need to discuss death more and maybe our churches should take a lead in starting the conversation.

Well if the church is slipping into oblivion as a few media commentators suggest, let’s take a few people with us-they may even enjoy the ride. Let’s do what we can to change the ghost train into the tunnel of love and enjoy the fun of the fair!

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Filed under Christian values, Christianity, church, death, fear, religion, research

A plea for peace

This week the parents of murdered teenager Jimmy Mizen spoke out about how the aniversary of their son’s death should serve as “ a message for peace”. A memorial bench was unveiled near where Jimmy was murdered and the Mizens joined with the parents of Damilola Taylor and Rob Knox to launch a group called United Parents- which aimes to mdivert young people from crime.

Last year I was involved with a project called and the Mizens kindly agreed to be filmed as part of it. To see the remarkable things they had to say about the impact of the tragic death of their son and their hope that other people will find faith- see my post  and the film at

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Filed under Christian values, Christianity, community, death, faith Christianity, fear, Jimmy Mizen, justice, law, peace

uncomfortable questions

Last night I was at an event which was about getting to know a group of people- some familiar faces and some new. Isn’t it amazing how we go through the same old questions to try to elicit answers that will help us form impressions about people ?One person I spoke to made it clear that money and status was important ot him; for another it was about impact on society; yet another just being happy. On the train back I was reading Tony Miles’ book Maybe Today and I came across a number of questions:

What will people  say about you at your funeral? Are you happy with what you think people will say about you? When you meet Jesus face to face, what will HE say about you? Are you concerned enough about that last question?

The first challenge is trying not to get too depressed about the question, and the next is trying to live each day as an opportunity to share something on God’s love to those we come into contact with- regularly or casually. . Let’s try to keep our eyes and ears open and not just directed heavenwards, but be aware of every situation where it is possible for us to make a difference and show something of God’s unconditional love. On the way back from the event I was with a group of people who were feeling good about how it all went as they headed off the the pub for a well earned drink or two. I’m not sure they spotted the homeless guy outside though, or even saw him as someone who could do with a but of love and attention from us. Will anybody be there to say something about him at his funeral?


Filed under Christian values, Christianity, community, death, life, religion, unfinished