They call it the last taboo – death. There's something of a gap in the market when it comes to enabling children to understand death better, and older people, too, need help grappling with the eternal mystery. A new book from BRF argues the benefits of getting young and old together to explore the subject.
It may sound incongruous to use bubble stuff, coloured card or pipe cleaners to help unpack the concept of death and what's next for each of us after our last gasp, but Seriously Messy is written by a four-person team who know what they're talking about.
Lucy Moore founded Messy Church in a church in Hampshire and now its tentacles reach worldwide. Martyn Payne worked for years alongside her as part of BRF's Messy Church team, helping start Messy Churches nationally and internationally with spectacular success. (He retired in 2017.) There are now Messy Churches on every continent – several thousand of them are registered – and many more unregistered, no doubt.
Martyn and Joanna Collicutt go back a long way – in fact, they were at school together! Joanna is author of BRF's Thinking of You: A resource for the spiritual care of people with dementia (BRF, 2017). Not only was she a member of our Advisory Group for Anna Chaplaincy, but she devised a resource for people to think through the issues surrounding death, their own funeral and prospects for life after death called Living Well in the End Times. Useful for clergy as well as lay people, it's described as 'a project to research and support churches’ engagement with issues of death and dying.'
Helping Joanna with this project, Victoria Slater is also the author of Chaplaincy Ministry and the Mission of the Church (SCM Press, 2015) and worked with the Alton's Anna Chaplaincy nine years ago, helping evaluate the effectiveness of what, at the time, was a very new form of community-based chaplaincy.
Bubbles, butterflies and cheesy nibbles...
Inviting people to talk about deep issues over craft materials is a winning combination, as session plans in the closing chapters indicate. It's anything but morbid. Blowing bubbles and naming people we want to be surrounded with love and prayer; crafting butterflies out of coffee filter papers to underscore how we are transformed as we transition from this life to the next; making cheese straws and talking about the ways God loves and feeds us, and how although a cheesy heart can be eaten quickly God's love never comes to an end… all such ideas and many, many more fill the pages of this innovative guide to opening up a subject which many find difficult to address.
It may be the insights into the ways children and teenagers, even adult offspring, grieve which will prove most illuminating for some. In the chapter 'Remembering', it's noted: 'We treasure the possessions left to us. It can take parents by surprise when their sophisticated adult children insist on keeping worthless items left in a deceased grandparent's home – a moth-eaten troll, a decrepit Monopoly game, a certain cup or plate, a penknife. These can be precious emblems of things they are in danger of forgetting; times of innocence and magical wonder from their childhood, a sense of security in a wide family circle, a grandparent who was previously a fit and trusted older companion rather than a frail invalid' (p. 55).
It's true. I remember someone who wanted only one thing from his late grandparents' home – the peanut jar. It was an old glass instant coffee jar from which 'Pappy' used to dispense individual dishes of peanuts for every member of the family when there were evening drinks. One day, when the jar was accidentally smashed by a clumsy visitor to the young man's house, he was disproportionately at a loss.
If you remain to be persuaded that 'we need to talk about death with the whole church family', then this might be a book to challenge your presuppositions about death and the need for more intergenerational conversation on the topic.
Seriously Messy: Making space for families to talk together about death and life (BRF, 2019) is available form BRFonline. Click here to order.