We should not be afraid to talk about death or be embarrassed to grieve, the Archbishop of Wales said today (April 6).
Dr Barry Morgan called on people to face the reality of death in a candid address in which he drew on his own experience of bereavement following the death of his wife, Hilary, from cancer in January.
In his presidential address to members of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales at the start of its two-day meeting in Llandudno, the Archbishop thanked people for the concern they had shown him and said he had received more than a thousand letters of condolence.
People today, he said, were not used to talking about death and dying: “What is amazing is that even in this third millennium, people still mention the word ‘cancer’ in hushed tones, if at all, or they just say ‘c, and there is still hesitation about using the words ‘death’ and ‘dying’. The words most commonly used are ‘passed away, ‘gone to sleep, ‘passed on, ‘started a journey, and ‘lost’, as if somehow these words are not quite so final or as brutal as the word ‘death’.
“In Victorian times people died much younger and usually at home so they were more used to talking about death and dying. That is no longer the case. The paradox is that the television and radio often offer serious programmes on death, dying and bereavement, so that on the public level a great deal of discussion is going on about this topic. We also live in a world where we are confronted daily with dreadful accounts of violence and death in our world.
“Yet in our society, more and more people have grown up without having witnessed the natural death of a relative. Many people reach middle age without having had any direct experience of bereavement and now over 70% of deaths take place not at home but in hospitals, residential homes and hospices. Death, when it happens, is also often seen as something private…
“But unless we, as Christians, are willing to face the reality and the finality in one sense of death, who is going to?”
The Archbishop paid tribute to the courage with which his wife faced her illness and her determination to live life to the full. He talked about how being diagnosed with a terminal illness helped her, as with others, to focus on the quality, rather than the duration, of her life and also gave her and her family a chance to prepare for death.
The Archbishop stressed the importance of the palliative care Hilary received to ensure her death was as pain free as possible.
He said, “If I was not already persuaded of the arguments against assisted dying, watching the care and the gentleness of the hospice nurses who came to minister a few times every day, for whom nothing was too much trouble, and for whom time did not matter even when they were approaching the end of their shift, would have convinced me.”
Dr Morgan also talked of the need to express grief openly and naturally. He said people often don’t know what to say or how to deal with those who are bereaved.
“If we effectively deny death in public, then we also limit the scope for the public expression of bereavement,” he said. “Weeping in public is often regarded as terribly bad form and yet we know that Jesus wept openly for his friend Lazarus.
“The grieving process is a natural process. Even though one may believe that death is not the end, that does not stop the heartache of missing those whom we love. We shall not see them again in this life. Grieving is the cost of commitment, the cost of loving. There is no right or wrong way to grieve – there is only the grief itself – a slow gradual journey undertaken by those who feel bereft.”
Death, said the Archbishop, does not separate us from the love of God.
“To believe in the God of Jesus is to believe in a God of compassion and hope and therefore of endless possibilities. God’s faithfulness and love therefore abide, for He is the God who can and does make all things new, for He is the Alpha and the Omega.”
The Governing Body of the Church in Wales is meeting on April 6-7 at Venue Cymru, Llandudno. Agenda and more information