A while ago I met an acquaintance at an airport. We have some friends in common and since our time at university together he has gone on to build something quite remarkable so I had been following his journey.
We had not met in a long time. Well, not sat down and had a conversation at least. I asked him how things were. And we had one of those conversations of rare honesty. His father was very unwell, dying. I asked him if he was getting any support and he told me how strange it was that no one really wanted to get into the subject. How utterly alone he felt. I told him that in my parents’ culture, mourning was a communal experience. That when a family member died, for the next fourty days friends and neighbours would share the reponsibility of bringing food to the homes of those who had lost a loved one. And ensure they were never alone. I remembered my own grandmother’s funeral, how loud and busy an affair it was with women wailing.
I mentioned having visited the British Museum for an exhibition on the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. How strange I found the absence of death in our contemporary culture, almost as though it were banished to a parallel world. We spoke of how wish for death and wish for life may well be intertwined. Where does it go when banished from the public sphere? How does the absence of rituals to deal with it affect our behaviours and our spiritual resilience in the face of adversity? Especially for those who are not religious?