SHG members at Dying Matters Awareness Week

Shropshire Humanist Group members took part in the Dying Matters Awareness Week in May.

Dying Matters Awareness Week is organised to encourage people to think and talk openly about death and dying and about being prepared for their own deaths.

This year in Telford the Community Health Team and in Shrewsbury the local Hospice organised stalls in shopping areas with information on various subjects: the work of the Samaritans, the making of wills, making a bucket list, palliative care options, and the stalls were manned by volunteers from various organisations.

Sue Falder and Simon Nightingale, both celebrants belonging to the Shropshire Humanist Group, displayed information about humanist funerals and talked to passers-by about the aims of the week. Some people superstitiously felt that to talk about death was to bring it on. Others were well ahead with their preparations, wills written, funeral instructions done. Still others spoke movingly about their own experience of illness and dying in members of their family.

The picture shows some of those at the Telford stall on 12 May. Sue Falder is on the right.

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Report on April meeting: A not-so-grim look at death

A report by one of our members on the talk given to SHG by Matthew Simpson.

Maybe death is the real ‘last taboo’ today. It has become somewhat invisible in our society, unlike in the past where many children would witness, say, the death of a grandparent.

Matthew Simpson pointed this out in a highly entertaining way, and went on to propose an idea which had certainly not occurred to me, that the biggest difference between atheists and those with a religion is not belief in a god, but belief or non-belief in an afterlife.

He talked about how as we cease to talk about death, belief flourishes in fairies, vampires, guardian angels, out-of-body experiences and psychics.

But do believers really, deeply believe in an afterlife? Surely then a death would then be cause for rejoicing, at least for the person moving on.

To a non-believer the impermanence of life actually enhances it. It is important to remove the fear of death. Many religious people think, quite wrongly, that atheists will change their minds at the end of life, and can adopt be a patronising attitude.

Matthew finds, as a Humanist celebrant, that people realise at Humanist funerals there is clearly no fear, and that this can be sensed. However, with any death, it is those left behind who are in want of comfort. Here Humanists can help, maybe at funerals and through chaplaincy. The NHS spends a great deal of money on religious chaplains, but very little on non-religious, although there are signs this could be changing.

So what is death like? Describing it as akin to sleep is not helpful. We dream in sleep, and in the end wake up. It is probably better to describe it as being the same as before we were born.

Matthew left us with several quotes on this subject from some respected thinkers.

It is hard to believe anyone could make this topic as acceptable and relaxed as Matthew did. I won’t tell you the answers to his quiz in case you have not yet heard him speak. (But apparently it is true that President Jackson’s pet parrot was removed from Jackson’s state funeral when it started swearing!)

16 April meeting: Matthew Simpson on A Not So Grim Look at Death

Death is generally a subject of fear and gloom. It is also the central focus of all religions. If God is “the invention of an animal that knows it’s going to die”, how can atheists and Humanists cope without the comfort of belief in an ‘afterlife’?

In a light-hearted but thought-provoking talk, Matthew Simpson looks at how religions prey on our fear of death, and explores the wisdom (and wit) of atheists about mortality. He suggests some ways Humanists can help others get more out of Life-Before-Death.

The session starts with a quiz to test your knowledge of death, with local and global facts as well as historical oddities. A free booklet of quotations from eminent atheists and humanists on the subject of death will be available. There will be plenty of time for your questions and thoughts.

Matthew has delivered this talk to ten Humanists / Skeptic associations around the Midlands and the North. He is a psychotherapist and sex-therapist, as well as conducting Humanist ceremonies.

Thursday 16 April at 7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG. All are welcome. Donations are requested to cover the cost of room hire, refreshments etc.

17 April meeting: Stewart Lever on music and counselling the bereaved

Stewart Lever, “singer, songwriter, naturist and dreamer”, will talk on Finding a new dream: the recovery journey Stewart took following the death of his wife, Anne, in 2001.

Stewart is now a trained bereavement counsellor, and Chair of Warrington Bereavement Support. He is an atheist and a humanist.

The meeting is on Thursday17 April  at 7.30 pm at The Lantern, Meadow Farm Drive, Shrewsbury SY1 4NG.  All are welcome. Donations are requested to cover the cost of room hire, refreshments etc.

What should we think about death?

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