Today I went to the exhibition ‘Death : the human experience’ at Bristol Museum. The exhibitors aim to encourage us to reflect on death and talk about it more as a society. As I walked through the dimly lit exhibition hall, I was taken from the point of death right through to the physical process my body would go through after death. I was encouraged to reflect on what I would consider a good and bad death, and if I should be given a choice when my life will end. Two things which personally struck me the most was the morticians table and hearing how people who prepared for their inevitable deaths seemed to find comfort in some aspect of their choice. There were interesting displays about different cultural rituals in funerals and of morning and expression of grief. The exhibition was packed but there was silence. I know I had a feeling of slight fear as I entered through the museum doors but left feeling very moved, mortal but calm.
My personal favourite book about how we might approach thinking about death comes from the Existentialist Psychotherapist Irvin Yalom. In his book ‘Staring at the Sun’ he gently encourages us that confronting death (staring at the sun) need not result in despair but can actually be the awakening for us to live a fuller life. It is a very human book which chooses to stare straight at death and uncover some of our anxieties, worries and terrors. Irvin tries to open us to the possibilities of choice in life without letting death anxiety prevent us from living it to the fullest that we possibly can.
‘Though the physicality of death destroys us, the idea of death saves us’
So I would encourage you from one human being to another to check out this exhibition if you can and share with your friends and family your thoughts, fears and wishes for your own death. If you cant get to the exhibition then I would still encourage you to courageously talk about death with others and find out as much as you want to know. If you would like more support with your feelings about your own death and/or you are struggling with grief then do find a counsellor to share your experiences and feelings with.