I read in the paper recently that 2015 was a bumper year for deaths and that life expectancy fell last year for the first time in twenty years.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) stated this as it sought to explain a 5.6% increase in deaths in England and Wales. The report suggested that there were two primary factors; one was flu with the suggestion that the vaccine administered for that particular flu season was inadequate, and the other factor was death through dementia.
I have no feel for what impact such a story will have on those who read it, though to be flippant undertakers and pension fund managers will not be complaining! We used to say that death was a taboo subject in the so-called developed world. Im not sure I would call it a taboo, I just think that we dont have a narrative within modern Britain from which we can frame our understanding of death. Consequently, our response seems to be that of bewilderment, anger and confusion for the bereaved, and avoidance tactics for the rest of the population.
People will often say to me things like, Im not frightened of dying, I just worry about the way I will die. Nobody I know likes the idea of dying alone, drugged to the eyeballs in a hospital bed somewhere/anywhere. Though we cant quite imagine what dying well might look like, I think, when it comes, we all aspire to die well.
Though I was and remain adamantly against the Assisted Dying Bill that MPs thankfully and forcefully kicked into the long grass last year, I do have questions as to why we keep people whose quality of life is seriously degraded in a way that seems, at times unnecessary. Whether its fear of litigation on the part of medics or pressure from relatives I have no idea.
The Bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), but we were not made to live forever. We age, our bodies age and huge sums of money are invested in cosmetic surgery or working out if we can isolate the gene which ages us so that we might look good all our lives! As a pensioner, I am now told that the secret to longevity is to ensure I walk 10,000 steps every day until I can stagger no more.
Heres my main point: Without a narrative within which we can interpret death, it will always seem scary, bewildering and confusing. Its time to think again.
As I write we are in the season of Easter. For me one of the most moving moments of the Christian year is at the end of the Eucharist in the Cathedral when the choir process out singing the Easter Anthems. It gets me every time! Here is a sample:
Christ has been raised from the dead: the first fruits of those who sleep. For as by man came death: by man has come also the resurrection of the dead
The Christian faith has a clear narrative around death. For those who are in Christ, death is not an end but a new beginning. Life eternal is a gift from God through faith in Christ and not something we earn. Knowing the consequences of death sets us free to live the new life that God wants for us now.
The Church, you and me are meant to be part of evidence of the risen life that Jesus through his Resurrection brings. I sometimes think we need to wake up to this truth. Is it true to say that what I think about death can profoundly impact the way I think about life and how I live it?
HE IS RISEN! HE IS RISEN INDEED! Now thats what I call a narrative!