Helping children and adolescents think about death, dying and bereavement
Jessica Kingsley publishers 2016
Art of Living, Art of Dying
Jessica Kingsley publishers 2017
In the UK in recent weeks there has been a great deal of discussion about the ‘British stiff upper lip’ partly enabled by Prince William and Prince Harry talking openly about their struggles following Princess Diana’s death some 20 years ago. Their honesty about the stark reality of bereavement and coming to terms with unexpected loss has been widely affirmed as part of and need for all of us to pay attention to our inner life and to be honest about our emotional and psychological health.
Of course many of us are sheltered from direct experience of death and dying as the population grows older and, death, perhaps is much less a part of everyday life. It might be interesting to ask whether in past centuries when death was much more part of the experience of people in communities we were more in tune with the rhythms and changes of life – more ready to talk and reflect. Put another way does direct and regular experience of death make us more able or empowered to reflect on loss and deepen our emotional and spiritual intelligence?
One of the organising questions for any of us who write or teach in this area is this: what kind of narrative best enables us to dig more deeply into the human, cultural, emotional and spiritual realities of loss, change and death? What kind of bridges need to be built so that knowledge can be put to work in and through our experience?
Marion Carter is a wise guide putting to use many years of work as an experienced chaplain and theological educator. She has a gift for good organisation, clear description and the constant eye and ear open to practice. Her book is a helpful resource that asks how children can begin to understand death and how adults might support and engage with children as they encounter this complex and bewildering subject.
This volume fills a much needed gap in the literature. Chapters cover the following subjects: What is death? Grief and Bereavement; Factors influencing Grief; Truth telling with children and adolescents; Schools coping with death; Funerals; Continuing care of children and Caring for carers. All of these chapters are supplemented with helpful appendices, a comprehensive reading list and an outline of useful websites and organisations.
Alongside this accessible narrative is another key feature which strengthens the helpfulness of this book. It is the way in which Carter draws in, users and explores experience. The voice of those who are facing bereavement are never very far away from the text. There are helpful activities used to elicit the reader’s experience at the end of each chapter.
Carlo Leget is an ethicist working out of Utrecht in the Netherlands who brings his experience of philosophical discourse and theological narrative to a reader who wishes to create some inner space within which to explore the many faces and meanings of death. He demonstrates that a spiritual care model can help us to discuss and engage with existential questions about death and dying. The aim of this book is to offer a framework within which we might interpret these questions. The author draws on extensive experience and uses his practice to offer a guide to deeper and wiser conversations with both religious and non-religious patients.
The first three chapters open up the framework by exploring the art of dying and our complicated relationship to death. Chapter 3 asks that we attend to the inner space within which the following questions might be explored (these form each of chapters 4 to 8) – who am I and what do I really want? How do I deal with suffering? How do I say goodbye? How do I look back on my life? What can I hope for?
The final two chapters imaginatively and insightfully discuss the mediaeval Ars Moriendi as a model for relating a wiser embrace of life in the light of our mortality.
Leget proves himself to be a wise guide and this book deserves the widest possible readership. I congratulate the editors at Jessica Kingsley for securing the text for publication.
These are good books that need to be read carefully and slowly. However – and in the end – this work of befriending death, embracing loss and change, being more emotionally intelligent about the relationship between living and mortality remains our responsibility. Those of faith would do well to consider how we build communities where this wisdom is part of the nourishing Wells from which people might drink for life and the letting go into new life through death.