Saturday, 21 June 2008

Life before Death

A few weeks ago, visiting friends in London we went to the Life before Death exhibition at the Welcome Collection which is part of the Welcome Trust, opp. Euston Station.

The exhibition, now over, was based on the premise that death and dying remain the last taboos, and that nothing teaches us more about life than death itself. Journalist Beate Lakotta and photographer Walter Schels asked 24 terminally ill people if they could accompany them during their last weeks and days. From these vigils came a series of insightful descriptions and photographic portraits taken before and after death.

This was an uncanny experience. The photos, taken after death, portrayed some at peace, others more as a shell. The ages of the subjects were varied, though many were middle aged, and in the descriptions often expressed that life shouldn't be ending so soon. Their experiences of dying were all different: some were accepting, even embracing; others were angry, or defiant; some had hope of continuity with this life, others none at all. Some of the stories were very sad.

One of our friends has had a life-threatening illness and it was interesting for us to reflect to what degree it was an emotional experience. Certainly it wasn't an overwhelming one, more poignant. You can read about it and see some of the pictures here.

Without minimising in any way the suffering that these people had endured, nor the openness with which some of them awaited death, I felt that stirring I've had on countless occasions at a funeral - be it Christian, agnostic, or atheist, a long life well lived or a life tragically cut short - when at the outset, I've had the privilege of proclaiming the gospel words of Jesus, 'I am the resurrection and the life'.

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