A songwriter and a philosopher contemplate death, loss and what it means to grieve well.
Nothing in life is certain but death and taxes. But if death is something we all face at some point, and grief is part of the human experience, we talk about them surprisingly little. In fact, it’s something we don’t necessarily do all that well as a culture.
“The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips,” wrote the poet Octavio Paz in 1961. His words still ring true today.
Some of us, like musician Phil Davidson, eventually find a way to deal with sorrow after the loss of a loved one.
“I could hear the foghorns of the ships that were leaving Belfast harbour and going out to sea,” Phil says about that night after he last saw Agnes, his grandmother, alive.
“I was lying there just thinking about my grandmother, I could hear these foghorns, and I’m thinking these ships are kind of all lost at sea. I thought that’s a great kind of analogy of how I was feeling.”
So he got up and started writing Ballymena Agnes. It was his way of connecting with his emotions and working through his grief.
For philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, it has been a different journey. His son died at 25 years of age in a mountain climbing accident.
When he turned to philosophical attempts to explain this loss, he didn’t find any of them compelling.
“So I live with unanswered questions,” he says. “I continue to have faith in that there is a creator of this universe and that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, but how I fit that altogether with the early death of a beloved son … I live with the question.”
In this episode, we explore the tension that is presented in the face of death. On the one hand, the Christian faith says that death is much worse than we think and our instincts are right, it’s really not ok. But it also says that there’s far more hope and comfort to be found in the face of death, more than we might imagine.
This episode was first broadcast on 21 April 2016.
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