top of page
  • downinnorfolk


Updated: Sep 13, 2022

'How to have a Good Death' was the title of an article in the Sunday Times written by Dr Rachel Clarke, a specialist in palliative care. It was a tribute to Dame Deborah James, a young woman who had been diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 35. Deborah had been honoured for running a podcast recording her emotions and experiences during the progress of her illness, and her thoughts about the prospect of dying. She had died a few days before, at the age of 40. "For all her fears as death approached," wrote Dr Clarke, " Deborah managed to live out her final weeks with astonishing spirit and humour. She juggled her “death to-do list” with sipping champagne in the garden, wrapped her frail limbs in fabulous dresses in emerald and gold, arranged tequila for her funeral and defiantly applied her scarlet lipstick to the end." Dr Clarke goes on to encourage those faced with a terminal illness to share their feelings, to draw up an Advance Care Plan, letting it be known how and where they want to die, and who they want to be with them – all this to make sure that they have a 'good death'. She concludes," As a palliative care doctor, I’m endlessly astounded by my patients’ capacity to savour their final days with a passion and intensity that can put the rest of us to shame. As time slips through their fingers, people find ways to be incandescent with life."

It was an interesting and valuable article as far as it went. I would endorse what Dr Clarke says about preparing to die. But what comes next? I know that Rachel Clarke, and I assume that Deborah James, would say, “Nothing. Death is the end.” But what if they are wrong? Then this approach, of turning your last days on earth into a sort of farewell binge, is dreadful.

Neither Rachel nor Deborah can prove that death is the end. Whereas Christians have good reason to believe that death is not the end: Jesus rose from the dead, an event in history as certain as any historical event can be. If that is true, then death is not the end and who knows better what lies beyond death then the Son of God, who himself died and rose again?

Jesus said that when we die we go to one of two places: a place of torment (not physical torment because we are obviously disembodied at this point) but a torment of remorse and despair. The other place is a place of peace and joy, at one with God, with Abraham, with Jesus and all those who have lived and loved him here on earth. And between these two places there is a great gulf fixed which no-one can cross from either side to the other.

So, first, what a terrible thing to die without being warned of this great gulf! It is our job as Christians to warn people of this, as well as help them to endure the process of earthly death, as Rachel Clarke does. But how we neglect that duty! God help us.

But then, of course, we need to tell people how to avoid that place of torment and how to reach that place of peace and joy with Jesus. Jesus warned us, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." So how do we find that gate and that narrow road? Jesus himself tells us: "I am the gate," (John 10.7), and "I am the way," and, "No-one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14.6).

We may have the opportunity to talk about these things with people who are struggling with serious illness, or know that they are dying. Here are some gentle questions to ask them:

"We all have to die one day. Have you thought about what comes after?"

"I believe that Jesus died and rose again from the dead. Have you thought about what that means?"

Read John 14.1-6. Then ask, "Would you like me to pray with you, putting your trust in Jesus as the way to eternal life?"

If the answer is yes, then encourage your friend to say after you these, or similar, words:

Lord Jesus, you died on the Cross to take away my sins, I am sorry that I have not followed you earlier in my life. Please forgive me, and help me to follow you now, on the way that leads to everlasting life. Amen

Of course, if the person you are visiting is already a committed Christian, then it is enough to read a passage from Scripture like John 14.1-6, as above, and to pray with them. I have always loved this prayer of Cardinal Newman:

Support us, O Lord, all the day long of this troublous life, until the shades lengthen, the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life over, and our work done. Then, Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at the last, through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.


Next Friday I hope to tackle our currrent confusion over gender!


Please share these posts with friends who may be interested.

28 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Another war between Israel and the Jews on one side, and various Palestinian and Muslim groups on the other. Is there any way to peace? As far as I can see the only way to peace is for both sides to

DECLINE .... and FALL?

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is perhaps the most famous history book ever written. All empires decline, either gracefully or violently. Including the British Empire. But do they all fal


The BBC News recently reported the success of scientists at CERN in making and storing anti-matter. In the world as we know it, the world of matter, an atom of hydrogen consists of a positively charg


bottom of page