MANCHESTER, England — Bishops in England and Wales turned to the Instagram social networking site as part of a project to educate Catholics about the “art of dying well.”
A website and Instagram page were launched Nov. 1 to offer advice on “helping people to die in peace” and to share resources on “death, dying and eternity.”
The emphasis is on understanding and dealing with death and bereavement and accepting them as parts of life that are not necessarily depressing.
The Art of Dying Well Instagram account will host a “Remember Them” virtual memorial wall. People are invited to post pictures and memories of a loved one who has died or is dying on the wall.
By tagging @artofdyingwell on Instagram, these names and photos will then be shared with five convents and abbeys throughout England, who will offer prayers for the dead and dying people.
The account will be complemented by an Art of Dying Well website which, according to an Oct. 31 press release from the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, aims to reach out a “helping hand to those grappling with issues around death and dying.”
“Based in the Catholic tradition but open to all, it features real-life stories about the highs and lows of dealing with the final journey,” the press release said. “Professionals in palliative care, ethics, chaplaincy and history have informed the site content.”
Nov. 1 was chosen as the launch date because November is the month dedicated especially for praying for the dead.
The new website — www.artofdyingwell.org — includes a guide to the rituals available for Catholics as they prepare for death.
Such rites, along with prayers for the dying, are explained using an animated fictional story about a family facing death and bereavement. It is narrated by English actress Vanessa Redgrave.
Dr. Kathryn Mannix, a consultant in palliative medicine in the north of England who has witnessed about 10,000 deaths, said in the press release that death should not necessarily be a depressing event.
“Most dying people are not depressed, and in my clinic many people have lived to enjoy the last weeks and months of their lives,” said Mannix, one of the physicians consulted about the content of the website.
“It’s wonderful to see them regain their enjoyment of life again, when they simply expected to remain miserable until they died,” she said.
The Art of Dying Well was formally launched by Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, president of the bishops’ conference, in London’s Westminster Cathedral, during a Mass for the feast of All Saints.
In his homily at the Nov. 1 Mass, Nichols said the online resources offer “so much for us to learn, from each other, from doctors and nurses who tend the dying, from the teaching of the church, from those willing to tell their story even as they are making this last journey.”
“Here we learn that dying is essentially a journey of trust, of waiting for the call of the Lord, of handing oneself over to his will. This is the mystery of death, the final vocation — not the product of self-determination in euthanasia,” the cardinal said.
He recalled how his predecessor, Cardinal Basil Hume, showed him what it meant to die well when he succumbed to liver cancer in June 1999.
“He was not self-absorbed,” said Nichols. “Even in his last days he was thinking of others, identifying himself with them, and ready to recognize that we all were sharing the same path. We were just at different stages of it.”