HOW do you cope with bereavement? The suggestions are diverse: pets, children, writing songs, taking a triple-tandem ride across Europe.
One caller to the Call You and Yours phone-in on the subject of bereavement (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week) conferred the ultimate compliment on the show by identifying phone-in shows as providing an excellent coping resource. This is one of the public services that the radio can do so well: radio not as information-giver, but as process, even ritual.
If the particular ritual being performed is not relevant to you, then it can seem superficial; but to sneer at this form of public therapy is to sneer only at the thousands of people who will contact a show like this. The “D” word — as Shirley Potts from Child Bereavement UK declared — is hardly ever uttered. Loved ones “pass on” rather than “die”; the deceased is not so much in “the next room”, but out of sight and sound.
What, then, of the “F” word? In this 45-minute phone-in, the word “faith” — or, indeed, any reference to the potential consolation of the metaphysical — was uttered only once. Structured belief may be vanishing from our public discourse, but the surveys tell us that there is still a great deal of spirituality out there. Not, apparently, among the Radio 4 cohort engaged in this programme. Or is it that faith is a taboo too far: it remains the consolation that dare not speak its name?
By contrast, with some deaths there is no way of keeping religion out. When, in 2006, Lance Corporal Jabron Hashmi became the first — and to this day only — Muslim member of the British armed forces to die in Afghanistan, the potentially conflicting loyalties of country and faith were brought to public attention.
In Salam to Queen and Country (Radio 4, Monday of last week), Zubeida Malik talked to Lance Corporal Hashmi’s brother about the support and abuse the family has received; and followed it up by interviewing General Sir Nicholas Carter about a plan to increase the number of black and Asian recruits to ten per cent by 2020.
In the absence of any real controversy here — Malik did not find anybody to speak out against Muslims serving in the British forces — we might at least have heard something more about the participants’ beliefs and the way they practise them in the field. It would have been instructive, for instance, to hear from the lady who had gone through Sandhurst about the daily business of worship and observation in an institution set up for a very different type of cadet.
Similarly, I yearned to hear more of life at the Baptist missionary college at Serampore during the partition era, as referenced in The Free Thinking Essay (Radio 3, Monday of last week). Catherine Fletcher’s account of her grandfather’s life in India otherwise provided a fine evocation of a Yorkshireman in the colonies. Who else could write that Darjeeling was reminiscent of Hebden Bridge?