The last taboo?

12/12/09 | Posted by Poppy

We aren't that festive in the Poppy household at the moment as someone close to us if very ill. Every time the phone goes I'm expecting bad news and it seems to be a particularily bad time of year to be in this situation as the last taboo for converstaion seems to be even more strongly observed now than at any other time of year.


So what am I talking about?

What is the last taboo? Fiddling your expenses, dumping your girlfriend by text, discussing your best friend’s love life on Facebook?

No, it is death.

A close family member is in his last few weeks or maybe months of life. Every time we visit him we know it could be the last time we see him. We are planning for Christmas, but all plans are very provisional as we don’t know if he will be strong enough to come home for Christmas lunch or whether the nursing home could cope with all of the family turning up and throwing a party in the dining hall on Christmas day. Or maybe we will be grieving as he will have died before the 25th of December. We just don’t know.

So why do I say this is the last taboo?

Well I shocked to the core when I was talking with friends at college about my worries and someone turned to me and told me off for talking about death and dying. He was upset that I had used the ‘d’ words and said that I should be more gentle with my language and opinions. Now as a grown woman not many people get to treat me like a child and tell me off, and it says something for my current rather fragile state that he didn’t go home with his teeth in a bag, but this sort of view, that we shouldn’t speak about death and dying seems to be quite common. Friends who have lost husbands, wives and children say that people will cross the road rather than speak to them in those first raw months of grief. Maybe it is an embarrassment with dealing with all that emotion or fear that it will bring back unresolved grief. Maybe it is fear of the unknown as people don’t die at home any more, it is all tidied away in hospital and later on, at the funeral home rather than laying out the dead at home.

So why is it all so difficult at this time of year?

In a world where faith is a private affair, where going to church is a minority pastime then Christmas is branded as a time for family. Well mine is likely to have one member less this year and that is hard.

But if you look at the Nativity Story then it is not just about a birth but about a death as well. Jesus was perhaps the most important person in history, not because he was born in a stable as there was no room at the inn two thousand years ago, but because he died about thirty years later.

Jesus was a great teacher. He talked about how to live life and how to treat people. He stood up for those at the margins of society and healed those that others wouldn’t touch. That is important but his life and death were more than just about morality. In some way that I don’t really understand his dreadful death on a cross, condemmed as a criminal, opened up a way of being in relationship with God. Because Jesus died I can address God as ‘abba’ which is the familiar form of father, a bit like Daddy. That is how the Lords Prayer starts - our Father, Abba, Daddy.

Knowing that God is there, knowing that Jesus made him accessible doesn’t make death any less scary. It is the unknown and that is always difficult to deal with. For those who are left behind there is the hard business of grieving. Of thinking ‘I’ll tell Janet about that - she will love it’ and realise afresh that Janet died and isn’t there anymore to share those good times with.

But there is a hope that death is not the end. That there is another great adventure to come and that in that adventure I will see those I have loved and lost through death.

So my prayer is that this elderly family member will have a gentle death and that we can celebrate his life knowing that he is at peace.


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Death is part of life. I’m so sorry to hear of the pain you are in. I want you to know that there is nothing wrong about you talking about death, and that person who said that obviously had their own issues to deal with. You have written very articulately and inspiationally about how your feeling and how jesus has impacted upon you, and i think you are an amazing, beautiful and strong person. I pray that you and your family can comfort eachother at this time, and that your relative will be at peace when the right time comes. Jesus will always be with you all and that includes your relative always!

#1. By C on December 15, 2009

Thank you C - your prayers area much appreciated

#2. By Poppy on December 16, 2009

Thank you for this honest and transparent post. My beloved Grandfather passed away this past Monday. It’s been tough. Sometimes we Christians have this thing that we always have to smile, but as I look at how Jesus dealt with the death of his friends, I see he wept. Looking at his followers throughout the Bible I see that all my heroes, such as David, Elijah, and Joseph were men who were honest with God, even at times expressing feelings of grief, abandonment, loss, and despair. I’ve been finding it comforting to know that it’s ok to be confused and it’s ok to grieve. Our hope is not in our own understanding or our own strength, but rather in the death and resurrection of our Messiah.

My prayers are with you and your family. Thank you again for talking about the taboo.

#3. By Daniel G on December 18, 2009

I agree with you and thank you for taking the time to write.  My prayers are with you, your family and family member. You are not alone. Its almost impossible but take heart.

#4. By Steven G on December 18, 2009

Daniel you have my sympathies and prayers on the death of you grandfather. Even when someone has had a long, happy life and is loved and cherished the grief is still hard. Perhaps it is because they are so well loved that they leave such a big space behind. Be gentle on yourself in the weeks and months to come.

Thank you for your prayers Stephen. Kindness is underrated, but how the presence of Jesus is felt it feels to me at the moment

#5. By Poppy on December 19, 2009

Death IS the ultimate taboo,  we spend all our waking moments in pursuit of “things” aqquiring,  dreaming of them, to   speak of and acknowlege death means all the things we see as important are really nothing more than an illusion, and will ultimately end.            We have abandoned a proper mourning period which says,  “Look, I am bereaved and hurting, please treat me with love and compassion”. Now we are left to grieve on our own, the excuse being,  “I didn’t know what to say” or even being avoided in the street and totally ignored.We need to practice the art of living in the now, in Gods time , the future really does not exist,stop collecting stuff and just be , death is really just a process and part of a greater   journey, to not acknowlege it’s existence is madness. Remember to love that person who is recently bereaved because that person will be you one day. John Donne said, Do not ask for whom the bell tolls , it tolls for thee. how right he was

#6. By kate on January 12, 2010




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