Let’s Talk About Death

This week I had a deep and wide ranging conversation with a person of Jewish faith.

We discussed sacred texts, theology, anti Semitism, understandings of Jesus and we talked about death.

He told me a joke about a person who went to see their Rabbi when they were diagnosed with only 3 days to live. The Rabbi responded by saying: “Congratulations – you know more than me, I don’t know if I will be here tomorrow!”.

In the Western world we have the dubious luxury of not being confronted with our mortality very often. When young people, or younger adults, are facing critical illness or death this is the shocking exception, not the norm.

Our standard of health and our health system are things to be grateful for – and I rejoice that these standards are increasingly expanding to countries currently enduring poverty and disadvantage.

However, one down side of our general good health is that death and mortality can come as a complete shock. This is despite the fact that to have life necessitates that we must all also have death.

Popular culture focuses on all things youthful, ageing is seen as something to be avoided or disguised and, I would contend, for many death is the new ‘dirty’ word. As a result, people who are living with terminal illness can be very lonely. Death is a taboo topic and so often friends and family are unable to be present to a loved one when they are confronted with this painful, inevitable reality.

While it is confronting, there is a strange gift when we intentionally face our death. In acknowledging our mortality – that death is not far from any of us- the things that are important in life can become clear: our relationships and those places within our lives that need healing, the ways in which we use, and waste, our time, and our deep down questions about life, purpose, meaning and the divine.

In facing our own mortality I think we are also more likely to be able to be authentically present to others when they are facing their journey to death.

One of the strange claims of Christian faith is that God is not removed from our suffering and death but enters right into the womb of this experience in Jesus the ‘God-One’. This is an integral part of the Easter story that we are journeying towards, and – as we think about our own morality- it is a mystery worth wrestling with.


Rev. Dr Sally Douglas