Attitudes to death

Are all deaths the same? Are some deaths more acceptable than others? Does the way someone dies affect how we feel about it?

“To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover’d country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.–Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d!”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1

‘The Death of Edward Colston’, painted by Richard Jeffreys in about 1844

Edward Colston was a Bristol-born merchant who became very wealthy through trade, including the transatlantic slave trade.

At first glance this painting shows the death of an old man at home in bed surrounded by loved ones.  Perhaps a peaceful and ‘good’ way to die?

Some people believe that this man was in part responsible for the deaths of many enslaved Africans.  Does this make us rethink how we feel about his own death?

An embroidery sampler made in 1842

In that year in London, out of every 1,000 children born, 437 died before they reached the age of two.

At first glance this poem tells a sad tale about the death of a much loved baby brother. Is the death of a child at any time a heart-breaking and ‘bad’ death?

The mother in the poem obviously believes in Heaven and God, which comforts her in her loss.  Does the fact that she believes her child will be reborn and happy once again make us think the death is less tragic?

‘The Death of Edward Colston’, painted by Richard Jeffreys in about 1844

An embroidery sampler made in 1842

Chief Seatlh of the Suquamish tribe

“There is no death. Only a change of worlds.”