On Living by Kerry Egan & Talking About Dying by Philip Giddings, Martin Down, Elaine Sugden, and Gareth Tuckwell

by
08 September 2017

Naomi Starkey finds a variety of approaches

On Living: Dancing more, working less and other last thoughts

Kerry Egan

Penguin £12.99

(978-0-241-30126-5)

Church Times Bookshop £11.70

 

Talking About Dying: Help in facing death and dying

Philip Giddings, Martin Down, Elaine Sugden, Gareth Tuckwell

Wilberforce £8

(978-0-9956832-0-4)

 

WRITTEN in a warm and anecdotal style, On Living combines a lightness of touch with some profound pastoral insights. Kerry Egan describes her work as a lay hospice chaplain as being fundamentally like a “storyholder” rather than a storyteller. More often than not, her ministry is to create space where people can examine their lives (having their story “held”) and seek meaning and resolution of issues that may have lain unresolved over a lifetime.

She shares honestly some of her struggles — trying not to flinch from situations of desperate suffering, searching for ways to help release shameful secrets, ministering to men and women with severe dementia. She also threads through the book her own experience of post-partum psychosis, discovering connections between a hard journey of recovery and self-acceptance, and the mental and emotional journeys made by those who are terminally ill.

Instead of preaching God’s love and the hope of eternal life, she emphasises how learning about God can actually happen best through learning about love. She goes on to make the helpful point that the first (and usually last) place where love is learned is in the family, which she describes as the “crucible of love”. That is why the hospice chaplain’s work must involve the family’s ongoing life as well as the experiences of the one who is dying. I found this book to be an inspiring and informative read, ideal material for those embarking on pastoral ministry.

Talking About Dying could have usefully been developed into one of three books: a practical guide for those caring for the terminally ill (with detailed information on the physical aspects of dying); a general reflection on the end of life (similar to Jennifer Worth’s In the Midst of Life); or a handbook for pastoral ministry, with guidelines for offering care in end-of-life situations from stillbirth to suicide.

As it is, though warmly commended by (among others) the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Carlisle, and Lord Harries, the book offers a somewhat frustrating taster of a range of perspectives and approaches to pastoral (and practical) end-of-life care.

I should have welcomed more discussion of the part played by the minister — in matters such as the last rites, the planning and leading of funerals (especially for those with no previous church connections), and post-funeral visits. I also felt uneasy at the confident assertion by one contributor that Christians should talk to families and friends about life after death not only to share “the good news of God’s plan and of Jesus’ offer of eternal life” but also “to warn them of the consequences of rejecting this offer”.

 

The Revd Naomi Starkey is Assistant Curate in the Ministry Area of Bro Enlli on the Llyn Peninsula in north Wales.

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