Facing our own mortality and not pushing the thought away as quickly as possible may not be easy. In her wonderful poem ‘The Summer Day’ Mary Oliver challenges the reader to consider, within the context that everything dies too soon, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It’s life’s finite nature that makes it so precious – and perhaps encourages us to be wild sometimes, to take risks, to strive to be the best of ourselves, who we really want to be. When we push death away we lose something, and when we embrace it we gain.
The Victorians were much more open about death than we are today. They romanticised it. The First World War, with the appalling loss of life abroad in which nearly 750,000 British soldiers died, changed all that. Very soon bringing bodies home was stopped and so there was no opportunity for a proper funeral. Eleanor Farjeon wrote in 1918 “In these bloodshot years uncounted men / Have gone in vanishing armies day by day.” She represented those left behind, women, parents, siblings and children of those who perished. Showing grief openly was seen to be detrimental to the war effort. From then funerals were pared down, death became a taboo subject to be pushed away, something to be handed over to professionals. This has prevailed in our society, but it is changing.
When we accept our mortality we can live more freely, because there is no longer an elephant in the room, or to be more precise, in our heads. Much of our humanity is tied to our awareness that one day we will cease to exist. It is painful to think that death will separate us from those we love. Working in funerals makes this an unavoidable subject and as I age it seems more real than ever. But also it makes me treasure my life and those I love and want to do something worthwhile with it.
More and more people are feeling a need to talk about dying, death and bereavement, but feel silenced in case they are seen as morbid or upset others. At Heart & Soul Funerals we see death as a part of life, something to be explored and discussed. We ran our first groups back in 2000 in our Green Fuse flower shop. We want to engage you and help you to see what benefits you might gain from being able to discuss death.
Photos by Jan O’Highway