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This content is taken from the Humanists UK's online course, Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Well the Humanist approach to supporting people at the end of their lives is really to have very candid conversations, but to follow their lead. We’re only interested in being there for people with what they need and want to discuss. And often people at the end of their lives will be reflecting over their entire journey through life. I’m not there to console when I sit with someone, to offer pastoral or spiritual care. I’m there to try and appreciate what someone has been through, what their hopes might be for their friends and families afterwards, and what their hope might be for a peaceful death, which I think many people want.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds Of course there are many of us without religion, and many people who call themselves humanists, who can actually face death with a lot of equanimity; it’s something they’ve thought about, they know it’s part of life, it’s the end of the journey, and often in hospital death may not come as a surprise, it can be at the end of a long illness. And people have prepared themselves for it. The non-religious aren’t anticipating a great hereafter, they can be often very content with the fact that this is the conclusion of their life.

Skip to 1 minute and 31 seconds Certainly at the end of life people do reflect on what their contribution has been to society, to their family, and really start to try and think - often people have thought about this previously, about what the meaning is to their life. And I certainly think as Humanists, we make our own meaning so that sort of reflection can happen throughout your life, but especially at the end of life. People can sit with that sort of question and think, ‘Yes, I have done what I wanted to do’; or ‘It may not have been what I planned to do but I’ve made a contribution’. And that is not a small thing.

Skip to 2 minutes and 14 seconds When people really reflect on what they’ve done in their lives, on how they have made good friendships or families, it can be very significant to them, to actually think that, yes, although I know people will be sad when I die, that is my legacy; that is what carries on after me. That I’ve had deep and meaningful relationships with people’. That can help really help someone understand that there has been meaning in their life; that our connection between one another is one of the most potent things, and that is actually, for many of us who don’t have a religion, really the most joyous and significant thing about life.

Skip to 3 minutes and 5 seconds I think people can be quite angry that their life is ending when they want to carry on, spend more time with friends and family and they’re excited about their work- but they know illness is taking them away from all of that. But there’s - - that’s not about fear and distress, its about a vitality and desire for life; and yet people can have that realism of thinking ‘Right, I actually need to plan for what happens after I’m gone, because I know this is the end. This is the conclusion of my life but life itself carries on’.

Skip to 3 minutes and 39 seconds That level of realism, whilst holding in the balance the sadness and the reality of ‘my life is ending and I’m prepared for it’, I find deeply moving; and it reassures me, really, about about my own belief system, when I think there are others who can find that balance.

The end of life

Humanist pastoral support trainer and practitioner Carrie Thomas describes the way some humanists approach the end of their lives.

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This video is from the free online course:

Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig

Humanists UK