Celebrating the season

This post was inspired by a quite beautiful conversation that I overheard on a public bus last night. A young girl was asking her mother about a friend of the family who had just died. The girl was confused as to what had happened and the mother was gently explaining how the friend had been ill for some time and that her dying was actually a relief for her.

The girl piped up: “So death is a good thing then?”

Her older sister interjected: “Not always…”

The mother settled things: “Sometimes it is the best thing, especially if someone is suffering. Someone dying can be a good thing and death isn’t always sad”

I’m paraphrasing a lot but in her wonderful education of her children, the mother used “death”, “dying” and “dead” multiple times, never relying on less clear words such as “passed on” or other euphemisms. Her young daughters listened in rapt attention and the younger sister seemed relieved and happy with the outcome of the family friend’s death. She obviously knew her well and her mother’s frank and simple explanation helped with clearing up what could have been a very confusing and scary time.

This whole conversation made me think of recent events and the people that have died in recent months. Whether that is the awful events in Sydney, Glasgow or France, or simply the loss of family members such as Ryan’s mother back in September. We will all be touched by loss in our lives and this time of year can often open old wounds and remind us of those who are no longer in our lives.

Christmas, Yule, Hanukkah, or whatever other festivals (if any at all) that folk celebrate during the winter months are designed to bring people together. Yet the emphasis on family and close bonds can be distressing for those who do not have that idealised life. Religion, grief and trauma can make this time of year one of the hardest for many so spare a thought for them if you are fortunate enough to be spending a few days with your loved ones.

One positive death activity that can be carried out at this time of year is remembering our loved ones. Many more pagan practices focus on ancestor worship, and while Halloween is a great time for this sort of thing, winter holidays can also be a useful time to think back to those who have come before us. So rather than being overcome with sorrow and loss (even though these are important emotions and should never be hidden for the sake of others), think of those who are no longer around. Think of the good times that you have had together and when you are having your Christmas meal (or other appropriate feast), have a place set out with a photograph of your loved one(s) nearby so that they can celebrate with you, even if in your memory.

Everyone has different traditions and associations with this time of year, and I can only wish you a happy and peaceful time, whatever you’re doing. Keep being death positive and we thank you for your fantastic support over the past year!

Here’s to a good and productive new year!

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Going back home for death

Hi all, Georgina here. So for those of you who read Ryan’s last post, you will know that his mother recently passed away and it has fallen to us to sort everything out.

Since the last post, we have been manically busy hence the long silence on the blog. Thankfully Ryan’s mother did not have to have a postmortem but the various delays and other bits and pieces meant that her death was only registered last Monday. As soon as we knew that that was going to happen, we jumped on the next train to start sorting through things.

So far we have managed to get things going with a funeral director. Thankfully the chap in question knows the family and has helped with the funerals of Ryan’s grandparents so he was really easy to deal with and is taking care of so many things which is a huge help.

We are currently wading through a lifetime’s worth of paperwork and other bits and pieces, trying to get some semblance of understanding of what everything means. This ranges from bank accounts to electricity bills and everything in between.

Reassuringly, everyone that we have had to deal with so far has been massively helpful and things are moving slowly but surely which is good. It is just rather surreal coming back to Ryan’s home town to sort out something we didn’t think we’d have to deal with for a good few years yet.

So far, we’ve discovered that there isn’t a will which means everything is up in the air. However, we’ve managed to get a lot done without having to pay a solicitor which is surprising yet empowering.

Anyway, Ryan will write another post soon to fill you all in on how things are going from his perspective. I’ve just been kicking ass and taking names with regards to getting all the paperwork sorted as that is the sort of thing I’m good at. Working together on this is way easier than one person doing it all alone so my only advice at this stage is, if you’re having to arrange all of this sort of thing alone…try and get a friend or a relative to help you out and if possible, make sure that they are someone you can trust and that you get on well with. Tensions and emotions run high with this sort of thing, so knowing that the person who is helping you has your back the whole way is important.

When death comes home

It’s one thing looking at death in the abstract, as an academic interest or a quirky curiosity, and quite another when it turns up on your doorstep when least expected.

I found out this weekend that my mother has died suddenly in hospital. She had various illnesses on and off for many years, including alcohol issues, but was recently very stable. She was rushed into hospital the other night, and died soon after. As I live hundreds of miles away, I was unable to be there for the death and so I got a phonecall from a relative to inform me the following day.

As it’s a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK, nothing can be done until tomorrow at least. So there’s no death certificate as yet, and the coroner will be doing a post-mortem, so I have no idea when the body and certificate will be released.

But I will have to travel back at some point in the next few days. As the only surviving next-of-kin, organising the funeral and dealing with the estate (such as it is) is up to me. I won’t lie, it’s bloody terrifying as I have no real experience of this. I did help (along with Georgina) to organise my grandfather’s funeral a few years back, but estates and wills are a new minefield for me.

So what I was thinking of doing was blogging the process as I go. Both as a form of catharsis for me, and hopefully to be able to help others in a similar situation negotiate the legal and personal difficulties of a parent’s death. From dealing with funeral directors and solicitors to trying to organise a funeral in a religion I no longer identify with to dealing with family and the platitudes of well-wishers, it will all be here, so watch this space in the next few days/weeks.

A Druid’s thoughts on death

Stone burial chamber at Wayland's Smithy, Oxfordshire.  Credit: wikimedia commons

Stone burial chamber at Wayland’s Smithy, Oxfordshire.
Credit: wikimedia commons

I’m not religious myself, but I’ve always been fascinated by modern Pagans and their approaches to nature. Druid and blogger John Beckett is one of my favourite writers in this area, and he recently posted two very thoughtful pieces on death which I have been meaning to write about for a while now. Go read them!

In response to questions about heaven and hell asked of him by well-meaning Christians, John articulates a fundamental difference between the dominant Christian religious paradigm in the USA and his own Pagan beliefs. He writes:

Christianity (at least in its more conservative forms) is a death-preparing religion – its primary focus is on holding the proper beliefs so the follower will end up in eternal bliss and not eternal torment.  Paganism (at least in its more popular forms) is a life-celebrating religion – its primary focus is on doing the right things so the follower lives meaningfully and honorably here and now.  That’s a highly generalized view, and that’s certainly not all either religion is concerned with, but it is a key difference in core assumptions.

This difference in focus does tend to lead to different views on death and dying, as well as on how to live your life. If life is a test that determines your place in the hereafter, and death is the final judgement, then what matters most is ‘passing’, ticking the right boxes, worshipping the right god in the right way.

If death is understood however as simply a natural process, a transition, then it can be seen as a part of the great cycle of nature, of life and death and new life.

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