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Talking about death, and This Happy Breed

22 August 2014


From the Revd David Primrose

Sir, - It was good to read the Revd Dr Rachel Mann's plea for a more honest approach to death (Comment, 15 August). Here in the diocese of Lichfield, our clergy take more funerals than those of any other English diocese: 37 clergy are each responsible for more than 50 funerals a year. Many parishes have developed their own ministries, both practical and pastoral, around terminal illnesses and bereavement. In May, more than 11,000 people came to the cathedral after a local teenager, Stephen Sutton, died.

Earlier this year, 25 parishes piloted GraveTalk for the Church of England's Funerals Project: a café space to talk about death, dying, and funerals. More than 500 participants valued the opportunity to share thoughts and listen to others in a safe and structured context. The material is now out for trial in four more dioceses, before being launched nationally next year.

Currently, we have a small group working on what it means to be a "death-confident congregation", so that our churches can be hubs of open conversation and meaningful hope for their local communities. The Dying Matters Coalition campaign illustrates the importance of a more honest approach to death - and our chaplaincies and parish churches have a vital contribution to make.

Hill House, Bednall
Stafford ST17 0SE


From Helen Innes

Sir, - I read with interest the article by the Revd Dr Rachel Mann on the finality of death. May I offer three quotations in response?

The first was from a film that I saw with my parents in, I think, the 1940s, This Happy Breed. One of the characters, exasperated by pious euphemisms, said of another: "He didn't pass on, pass over, or pass away. He just died." Rather than the view of death, it was the verbal economy that appealed to me as a young child, but it stayed with me.

Then, in a York Course some years ago, the Revd Pauline Webb said: "Death is not the opposite of life: it is the opposite of birth." This idea was a great inspiration and comfort to me when my husband died.

Finally, from our own Sage of Wormingford: "Everyone seems to wriggle out of funerals and into memorial services these days, aiming at celebration. A solemnity is what I aim at. Someone has left the world." My sentiments entirely.

26 East Avenue, Mickleover
Derby DE3 9HN

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