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Inside the Hospice: Talking about Death

by Fr Peter-Michael Scott

Lately in the hospice we have been considering how society talks about dying and it has made me think about my parents. They were a wonderful pair, very unique, always interesting. My father was a genuine man who wore his heart on his sleeve. My mother had great humour and went through life giggling and laughing. They were exceedingly different and their distinctive personalities reflected how they talked about dying.
Dad and I would have long conversations about death. Not in a morbid way, but he would talk about the inevitability of dying, his funeral and life after death. He had certain frustrations: the kitchen table he had made would undoubtedly be around long after he had died, but he did not worry about facing God. He believed God was loving and merciful and would answer his long list of questions.

My mother, on the other hand, would not talk about death; she would avoid the subject, almost walk out of the room. She was a retired nurse, so she must have witnessed a great many deaths, but I think she preferred to side-step talking about dying because she considered it sad, and her approach to life was underlined by laughter. Mum was not one of those people afraid to talk about dying because it could ‘tempt fate’, that raising the subject could kill her, because she was remarkably wise and knew that was completely daft. She never stopped my father talking about death; she just did not want to.

After a long life together, they died rather unexpectedly within two weeks of each other. They left me and my brother a wonderful practical gift. It was a clearly marked box, which sat on a shelf in my father’s study and contained their wills, funeral plans, details of their graves and liturgies for their Requiem Masses. Which of them convinced the other to create the box, we will never know, but after their deaths it was remarkably helpful.
The box also contained a prayer directed at me, my brother and their grandchildren, and was reflective of their unique personalities: ‘think deeply, speak gently, love much, laugh often, work hard, give freely, pay promptly, pray earnestly and be kind’.

Please pray for the patients, staff and volunteers of St Joseph’s Hospice.

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