Christians on Ageing has views on issues affecting the lives of older people. This column highlights news items, research, new books, surveys and media reports which have a bearing on how older people are living their lives and how society is reacting to changes in attitudes towards older people and ageing. If you have views on what you read here, please let us know so that we can share them with others.
National attitudes to death
On our News page there is a report about an initiative earlier in 2018 by Co-op Funeralcare: the provision of low-cost funerals which involve no mourners and no ceremony. The Co-op announced that it would be conducting a nationwide survey of British attitudes towards death. The results of the survey have been published as ‘Making peace with death’ and can be read here. The Co-op says that over 30,000 responses were received although this figure is amended in the formal reference to the size of the sample (22664 adults 16+). The survey (which was conducted on-line) covered basic attitudes towards the death of others as well as the ways people thought about their own mortality. The main finding is that the majority of people find the whole subject of death very difficult and find themselves inadequate in the face of bereavement. Additionally, the lack of preparation for death is startling, including the making of a will (only 27% it is suggested). The word ‘taboo’ is used in the findings as a general description of the British attitude towards death. No one really likes talking about it and will go to great lengths to avoid having to deal with any aspect of it. The questions asked are not listed and, therefore, it is not possible to compare the enquiries with the answers.
One of the significant features of the survey results is the almost complete absence of any mention of religious faith or affiliation. There is a single reference, in a section about making funeral plans, to the influence religion might have had in prompting making a plan (9% said it did). Other than that, nothing. It is understandable that a commercial organisation with a very big interest in funerals should concentrate its effort on those matters which affect its own business planning, but to ignore the place that religious faith might have in people’s thinking and practice does raise a number of questions. Did the survey deliberately exclude any enquiry about the effect of faith on attitudes to death and bereavement, or was it just not remembered? If it was deliberate, why? If it was just forgotten, is this a reflection of the entirely secular purpose and approach of the survey, or symptomatic of a wider ignorance of the role of faith in people’s lives?
In the Press Release issued at the time of the announcement of this survey, Christians on Ageing suggested that it was time for the Churches (as well as other faith communities) to confront the avoidance of death in our culture and bring discussion about dying and bereavement back into the land of the living. The results of this survey make that task more urgent. One of the main responses recorded in the survey was that people ‘didn’t know what to say or do’ when dealing with death and the care of those left grieving. The Church of Jesus Christ has got the words and knows what to do.
Christians on Ageing will continue to explore this issue. Our booklet on ‘Dying and Death’: what have Christians to say to secular society?’ is still available from our Bookstore.
You might like to read a recent review of ‘Terminal Illness’, by Drs Elizabeth Toy, Catherine O’Neill and Sarah Jackson, Redemptorist Publications.