As the man in the TV soap said, 'Death never comes in a fun kit.' Whenever it strikes, death is stressful, overwhelming and final. We don't like talking about it. But a society's attitude to death reflects its attitude to the suffering of others. And today we don't look too good. We tend to sequester the dying and we expect the bereaved to recover in a couple of weeks.
It's only when someone close dies that we realise how unprepared we are. For all its cloying rigidity, the Victorian way of death recognised the struggles of dying and the pain of personal loss, and promised reunion in heaven. Today, most of that etiquette has crumbled, and only 40 per cent of us believe in an afterlife. This book is about how we are learning to cope in a secular age.
Michael Waterhouse explores how care of the dying is changing and how hospices can offer a real quality of life to those with terminal illness, while helping family and friends to come to terms with the situation. He also gives details of encouraging new approaches to funerals and bereavement. Basing the book on interviews with health professionals, with those facing death, and with the bereaved, he relates individual stories to wider social, ethical and medical problems. Some of the stories recall painful experiences, but they also show people's resilience and courage.
What shines through is the idea that the more informed and proactive we are, the better will be our experiences of dying and grieving.
Michael Waterhouse was born in St Asaph in North Wales. He read English at Cambridge, did a DPhil at Oxford, and became a documentary television producer, at one time series producer of the BBC's Heart of the Matter. He writes for the New Statesman and the Literary Review, and is on the Department of Health's Gene Therapy Advisory Committee. He lives in Kent, with his wife and two children.