In years gone by, death was a feature of everyday life. There was a much higher mortality rate and people tended to die at home surrounded by their loved ones. If you lived in the Victorian era, it is likely that you would have witnessed several deaths by the time you reached 30.
But the establishment of the National Health Service and great advances in medicine, especially in the last 50 years, have contributed to much longer life expectancies. Many more people die in hospitals and nursing homes than at home.
As a result, death has been pushed into the margins of our consciousness, so most people don’t think about it until they have to. This can make a diagnosis of serious illness especially shocking and frightening, both for the person diagnosed and their family.
It is to address these fears and to remind people about the concept of a “good death” that the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales has launched a website, the Art of Dying Well (artofdyingwell.org).
Using animations, film and audio interviews and a range of articles, the site shares the Church’s treasury of teaching about living and dying well. It is inspired by a medieval genre of religious literature known ars moriendi (art of dying) which provided spiritual and practical guidance to help people to prepare for a good death.
The site includes prayers and reflections, along with the testimony of those nearing death and the insights of others who have survived serious illness. It is a valuable resource for those who are dying and their loved ones as well as for doctors and nurses.
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