‘A Matter of Life and Death’- Autumn series of 4 online events

dead flower with seeds in a hand

We are excited to announce a series of 4 online events providing opportunities to talk openly about the subject of death and dying, rather than avoiding it as a taboo topic. We feel this is even more important in the wake of the devastating effects of the Covid-19 global pandemic during recent months.

The events are being organised and run as a partnership between Leeds Church Institute, Faith in Elderly People and Growing Old Grace-fully.

Here are the details of the events:

All are welcome at these online events; you may find them particularly helpful if you are supporting, visiting or caring for older people, the bereaved, or those nearing the end of life.

Format for the Events

We will kick off the series with a seminar type event with Dr Lynn Bassett being interviewed by Carol Burns, followed by opportunity to post questions in the chat function. This event can host a greater number of attendees.

The following 3 events will give more opportunity for discussion, and so may need to be limited to 30 people per event; if the events are oversubscribed we will keep a waiting list and consider planning further dates.

You can pick and choose which events to attend, there is no obligation to attend all 4 events as they are each stand-alone events in their own right.

A GOOD DEATH – reflections from a former hospice chaplain, Revd Tom Lusty

Revd. Tom Lusty, LCI member and Vicar at St Giles, Bramhope reflects on ministry spent as a full-time hospice chaplain in the context of Covid-19.

Given the five years I spent inhabiting a hospice on a more or less daily basis I now know that death isn’t all that bad. It can sometimes be protracted and exhausting for all concerned. But even in such circumstances a good death is possible. With a good death there is a tangible sense of completeness, of dying with integrity.

To be honest I did not spend a great deal of time talking about death at the hospice beyond using euphemisms for it. For some of the nurses heaven was their euphemism of choice for death: “Gladys has gone to heaven now – God help them all up there”. I did speak, however, about my Christian faith when invited to do so, and the opportunities that came my way to speak about resurrection hope were considerable.

Within our tiny specialist world hospice chaplains have developed a repertoire of material that enables people to prepare spiritually for their own dying. Three resources that were and remain helpful to me are Mud and Stars, which gave me the theology, Tom Gordon’s A Need for Living which gave me the metaphors, and John O’Donohue’s Benedictus which gave me everything else: when there is nothing else you can do, you can always bless. That is a powerful thing to be left with – if you can bless sublimely, even better.

Dying is not about so much anguish and forsakenness. A good death is a movement towards integration – from “dislocation to relocation, from disorientation to re-orientation, from disintegration to re-integration” as Mud and Stars puts it. Part of a wider crucifixion/resurrection dynamic where we are always on the lookout for resurrection.

The cover photo of a book by Tom Gordon entitled New Journeys Now Begin depicts the access path to north beach on the Island of Iona. The inscription reads “No bikes beyond this point”. For each of us there will come a point where we have to relinquish the bike to go on the next stage of the journey. Getting off the bike can be painful because we get used to cycling everywhere. The more in life we can put the bike down and enjoy the view, the better prepared we will be for that moment in life when we will each have to “say goodbye to the bike”. As it were. This is a metaphor. A metaphor for resurrection.

As well as using metaphors a lot a group of hospice chaplains adopted a mnemonic as a helpful way into conversations about dying. The HEALER model goes like this:

H is for Hope – what takes people in a trajectory away from despair.

E is for Exploring Feelings – encouraging people to articulate their feelings.

A is for Adjustment to Loss – exploring how significant loss is transcended.

L is Looking Back – doing a life review: anything significant left unresolved?

The E and the R stand for Existential and Religious issues – some people are terrified of death for reasons that go beyond fear of the physical process of dying. I put that under ‘Existential’. Religion comes last of all. That is healthy because it says not all our needs are religious ones. We may choose to express our grounds for hope in religious terms but never exclusively so.

The HEALER mnemonic provides us with six different prompts as a helpful way into a conversation about dying. These prompts are not to be tackled exhaustively in chronological order (imagine how awful that would be) but rather as a means of focussing on some of the ways in which the conversation might go. 

Given that Easter this year coincides with the beginning of the six to eight week peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in the UK using prompts from this mnemonic might be helpful during that time if we wanted to reflect on our own mortality. Devoting a little space to reflect on our own dying (say ten minutes, once a week) will certainly make us more open to engage with others who may be starting out on the process of the end of life’s journey.

When someone asks “what hymns are you having for your funeral?” a closed response “goodness, I have never thought of that” may not always be adequate. A more open-ended, personal response to the question might well allow the questioner to fulfil a need to talk openly about death.

In any Christian model of spiritual preparation for dying you can’t leave out the letting go …and the leaping. John O’Donohue describes the daily handing over of one’s life as the act of awakening and surrender. The possibility of this daily practising of such a hand over, however we may choose to do it, of our lives into the life of God may well be what makes us most Christ-like. 

Each morning we awaken to the light… each night we surrender to the dark… Awakening and surrender: they frame each day and each life; between them the journey where anything can happen.

John O’Donoghue, Anam Cara  

The HEAL(ER) mnemonic was devised by Revd Linda Elliott, at one time Chaplain at Thorpe Hall Hospice in Peterborough. 

Books mentioned in this article:

Mud and Stars: The Report of a Working Party on the Impact of Hospice Experience on the Church’s Ministry of Healing

A Need for Living: Signposts on the Journey of Life and Beyond Tom Gordon and New Journeys Now Begin Tom Gordon

Benedictus: A Book of Blessings John O’Donohue 

Anam Cara John O’Donohue

POSTPONED “A Matter of Life and Death” conference Weds 18th March

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS CONFERENCE HAS BEEN POSTPONED. WE HOPE TO REARRANGE IT FOR THE AUTUMN. A day to talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement.

This free conference aims to help us see dying as something we can plan for and manage rather than something to fear and avoid discussing. It is a partnership event organised by Growing Old Grace-fully, Faith in Elderly People and Leeds Church Institute.

Programme for the day

10.00am Arrival, opportunity to browse marketplace of informative stalls
11.00am ‘Can we talk about death?’ – facilitated discussion groups for all
12.00pm Keynote speaker Dr Lynn Bassett

‘Making those difficult conversations just a little easier’

1.00pm Lunch

2.00pm Workshops – first round.

You will be able to choose one from the following:

Palliative Care – Medical Mythbusting

Putting Affairs in Order – Financial and Legal

Funerals and Memorialising

Supporting Carers

Having the conversation – visiting and pastoral care

3.00pm Workshops -second round
(opportunity to attend another of the topics from the above list)

4.00pm Close

Compassionate Communities: Diversity in Dying

Our trustee, Ann West, was really enthusiastic about a Day Conference she attended on Compassionate Communities: Diversity in Dying at Bradford University on 16th May, as part of Death & Dying Week.  The speakers were Alan Kellehear, Professor of End of Life Care at Bradford University and Mary Clear, End of Life Doula – an activist from Todmorden.

Ann writes, “Having attended this Conference with an open mind, I was riveted by the first two speakers, open mouthed in amazement.”

Allan Kellehears book“Allan Kellehear is an internationally renowned speaker on the subject of end of life care, and intends to revolutionise this by creating Compassionate Communities. He will do this by getting cities to sign up to become Compassionate Cities – Bradford is one such city, Seville is another. His plan is to target the institutions such as the Local Authority, Health and Wellbeing Boards, Libraries, Schools, Primary Care, Health Promotion agencies, Hospices  and more. His view is to create the changes from top down, changing the currently haphazard way in which end of life care is managed.”

“Allan’s main points were:

  • The Health Service is done – has no further capacity, cannot cope with the ever increasing number of patients, particularly the elderly.
  • Most older people want to die at home, and yet most die in hospital.
  • At the end of life , and following bereavement, only 5% of the care given is professional; the rest is informal caring by family or friends
  • It takes time to die, dying is getting longer and longer, and bereavement lasts forever.”

“Allan also went on to say that health is everyone’s responsibility.  Currently people and services wait for a terminal illness, and then do something ( which is a 1940’s model).  Palliative care is partial and episodic.  It is important  that we learn about death and dying, bereavement and loss and that we care for each others lives – bereavement and loss is a community responsibility.   We need to promote a good death instead of symptom management.  His blueprint for compassionate cities includes:

  • Publicity in public places e.g. art galleries, museums
  • Raise awareness / education
  • Employers to have a realistic bereavement policy
  • A peacetime annual memorial parade
  • Churches to have a dedicated group for end of life care
  • Volunteer programmes in hospices acknowledge people’s wealth of skills / compassion
  • In Public Health there needs to be behavior change / environmental change, as well as a shared responsibility for healthy living and support around dying, caring and bereavement support.”


Doula“The next speaker was Mary Clear, an activist in Todmorden who is a Doula, a person who accompanies a dying person, and their family, during their final illness and carries out their wishes in relation to their funeral.”

“Mary spoke about a week of activities around death and dying called ‘Pushing Up The Daisies’ in Todmorden.   Mary commented that it had been a huge success.”

Ann says “I had never heard of a Doula, but in pre war times, like the woman who used to live on every street who delivered babies, there would be a person who did the laying out of a body and generally cared for the family. The Doula is a modern day equivalent.  A person who gives compassionate care to an individual, helps to give permission to talk about death and how the dying person would like their funeral to be.  Mary even arranges a funeral herself, according to the wishes of the person, helping to offer some autonomy in a situation where there is very little.  It would be impossible to reproduce Mary’s talk , which was very personal, which challenged the current way of death and showed that, in a small way, a bottom up approach can be effective.”

Ann concludes “If you compare the recent changes in attitude to Dementia brought about through collaboration of large institutions, including the Banks, transport services, the Police, schools, churches, social and broadcast media,  it gives hope that this initiative could develop in a similar way.   With people like Allan Kellehear and Mary Clear leading initiatives, it could happen very soon.”


Thanks very much to Ann for such a thorough report.  I am sure this will help our work in supporting Parishes and individuals to lift some of the taboos around talking about Death & Dying.