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Christianne Heal
Counselling and Psychotherapy
Cambridge/London

Sessions apply Healing touch to death

THE SUN is shining, the trees are in blossom …… and Christianne Heal has death on her mind.

There is nothing like a day contemplating one's own mortality for bringing the rest of your life into perspective explained Ms Heal seated in her sunny rose scented sitting room.

Christianne Heal runs regular Death Workshops, not for mourning or the bereaved, but very much for the living.

Death, she said, disarmingly, has been a “lifelong interest”, and given its inevitability, she is, dare it be said, mortified by the cavalier way people lead their lives, as if it were either a dress rehearsal or infinite.

The point of the workshops is not to frighten people by ramming home their immortality, quite the reverse, to lay ghosts and taboos by addressing the subject head on.

“It's not a subject that people are used to talking about” said Christianne, “and yet I think there's an enormous need to discuss it.” It's not the sort of topic which goes down well at dinner parties, for example. If it's raised at all, she said, “people feel that one or two minutes is enough and then it's time to shut up about it.”

“You can't avoid death, but it's worth a thought. Think of the preparation that goes into a wedding. If you view your life as limited, you must use your time because you realise it's not going to go on forever.”

People think that when the children are grown up they will write that book or go windsurfing - but never get round to it. It helps people to reassess their lives if they realise that it is not going to go on forever.

There is a lot of fear about death. Some children have been told extraordinary things – “If you do this you're going to hell” - it never leaves them.

The average age of the people who attend her workshops is 35, “when people start to think their life with its three score years and ten is halfway through, but I have had a boy of 13 and the oldest was about 69.”

“I think people do come feeling a little bit apprehensive, but most go away having really enjoyed themselves. The purpose of the workshop is to just explore our feelings about death and expressed different views.”

During the workshops participants learn to face their own death. “You write your own obituary in the third person, in large letters so that everybody can see what it says, and if you want to write a book or you want two more children you put that in.”

A third person reads it out and the author gets the sense of being spoken about as if he/she was no longer there. Participants also plan their own funerals, or rather a celebration of their lives.

“The extraordinary thing is everybody wants it to be a good occasion. It is an opportunity to make the peace with foes and family - whether you didn't return a book or went off with a lover.”

But as well as helping people sort out the rest of their lives spiritually, it helps in practical ways too.

“It's amazing how few people have got round to writing a will. They say they're too young, or they have nothing to leave.”

When the uninitiated hear about Christianne Heal’s Death Workshops, they say “what a way to spend a weekend”, but she said the participants “go away feeling good, having enjoyed themselves.”

This article originally appeared in the Ham and High

Christianne Heal’s next Death Workshop is on Saturday 30th October 2021 in Waterbeach near Cambridge

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