GRIEF, fear, and loss, and the ethics, palliative care, chaplaincy, and history that surround death and dying, have been explored on a new website, The Art of Dying Well, commissioned by the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales.
Loosely based on the 15th-century illustrated manuscript Ars Moriendi, or “Art of Dying”, the site offers support and guidance for those facing death: either their own, or others’. It went live on All Souls’ Day, on Tuesday, marking the start of a month of remembrance in the RC Church for the dead and dying. A special mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, in Westminster Cathedral.
On the website, a short animation of a fictional family, the Fergusons, in which the father is diagnosed with terminal cancer, is narrated by the actress Vanessa Redgrave. It explains and illustrates some of the rites and prayers that surround death in the RC Church. The Art of Dying Well also offers advice about facing death, talking about it, losing a loved one, and caring for the dying.
The Auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, the Rt Revd John Sherrington, told The Times this week that to meet every request for a priest to be at a deathbed, as is illustrated in the film, might be a challenge for the RC Church, as numbers of priests were dwindling in some parts of the country.
“But I’ve always felt, as a priest and now a bishop, that a priority for those who are sick and dying is really important,” he said. “Although we may have fewer priests, we have to look at priorities about what gets done.”
Through the website’s Instagram and Twitter accounts, the public can also post images of loved ones who have died, or are dying. By tagging @artofdyingwell, they will be remembered by nuns and monks at five convents and abbeys across the UK. The Sisters and Brothers will also pray for those who have no one to remember them, a statement about the site says.
“We know death is coming eventually, but we are rather more focused on the here and now,” it says. “The Art of Dying Well has been built to help people keep death in mind, so as to fully embrace life now.”