Extracts from the speech delivered by Ru Callender at the launch of the 5th edition of the Natural Death Handbook at the Horse Hospital, London, 4 July.
In the west, the idea of celebrating our ancestors has weakened along with our religious beliefs. We are less sure of our place in the natural order, less sure of an order at all. Our graveyards are untended and shunned, and our sense of self becomes just as neglected. I believe that we donʼt become ancestors when we die, we become them when we are born, and it is our duty to all that came before and all that will come after to realise this. Ancestors remind us that the baton is often passed to us from out of the darkness, from out of the past, and that we need faith to grasp it, and faith to hand it on, gifting our beliefs out into nothing, trusting that other hands not yet born will pick it up. Weʼre all absent friends in waiting. We die, yet our ideas and values can be immortal.
The Natural Death Centre has always operated in a difficult area. Most people quite understandably give death and the issues around it a wide berth. What we have to say makes us unpopular with those who would rather diminish the experience for their own benefit, but as events like the Levenson inquiry, or the Dispatches exposé, or the Archbishop of Canterbury expressing his disgust at society’s imbalance show us, speaking truth to power is our moral duty, as sure as it is in the nature of power to resist our attempts to break through. We believe that no authority, religious, medical, cultural or worst of all, commercial, should be allowed to define and package and limit our experience of dying and what may come after. These rituals are for us all to re-imagine, this mysterious frontier is for every individual to cross in their own way.
Read the whole speech here.