Befriending Death

by James Woodward

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Befriending DeathAlthough most of us desire a life of peace and commitment, sometimes we are required to look death in the face - be it through bereavement, serious illness or even the end of a relationship. This book addressed to the Christian reader who wants to reflect not only on the place and meaning of death in life but also on the issues that loss and change confront us with. It offers the reader the chance to reflect, fell and explore.

Written for those who embrace the realities of death and those who stand in the presence of death, this book can be used alone or with others. Practical exercises and questions for reflection are contained within each chapter to help the reader understand the life that prepares us for death. This is not about life after death; rather it is about discovering and engaging with death within this world. It is ideal for those who need practical help or those who simply wish to learn more about this sensitive subject.

James Woodward is an Anglican priest with experience of working with the dying in a variety of contexts. He is Master of the Foundation of Lady Katherine Leveson and Director of the Leveson Centre for the study of Ageing, spirituality and Social Policy in the diocese of Birmingham.

ISBN 0-281-05370-7
128 Pages Paperback

1 Exploring the Theme - Dying to Live
2 Spirituality and Dying
3 For Those Who Listen
4 Living While Dying
5 Preparing for and Facing Death Itself
6 Resources from the Tradition
7 Preparing for Your Funeral
8 Conclusions
Appendix One - What to do after a Death
Appendix Two - Information and Resources
Appendix Three - Journaling
Appendix Four - Prayers and Spiritual Readings

Reviews of Befriending Death

By Death, our sister, praised be,
From whom no one alive can flee,
sang Francis as death approached.

In this short book James Woodward sets out to rob Sister Death of the various disguises with which, in our ignorance, fear, denial and confusion, we have clothed her.  The book itself occupies 75 pages – the remaining 46 consist of appendices and bibliography.

Ch.1 explores the theme; the reader is invited to participate by means of pondering questions, and doing a simple exercise. Ch.2 relates spirituality and dying.  Ch. 3 is perhaps the heart of the book and is about listening.  Ch.4 – Living while Dying – is for those who live with the knowledge that they are near death.  Ch.5 deals with preparation for and facing death, and concludes with an exercise.  Ch.6 – Resources from the Tradition, centres on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Ch.7 is practical – preparing for one’s own funeral, and Ch.8 gives conclusions.

This book pulls no punches, it calls a spade a spade.  At the same time it is written with sensitivity, and the overall effect is to provide light and reassurance.  Particularly valuable are the appendices – ‘What to do after a death’, and ‘Information and resources’.

On the back cover we read that ‘This book is addressed to the Christian reader’… This should include the multitudes for whom ‘Christianity’ is a faded memory, or a deeply buried and general apprehension, rather than a living faith – for they, too, as death approaches, stand in need of the help which this writer offers.

Anselm SSF
The Franciscan, September 2006


This latest offering by the Director of the Leveson Centre is a real gem. The main text is only 75 pages long though this is supplemented by a further 30 pages of helpful appendixes. It is a timely book. As we age we cannot but be aware of death despite living in a largely death-denying society. The fact of death, the process of dying and the question of what may lie beyond this life cannot be ignored.

Befriending Death is a fascinating mix of the intensely spiritual and the immensely practical. Most of all it is totally honest. This means that it is not an easy read because it confronts its readers with issues we might prefer should lie dormant. Its central message is that we need to 'face death and live'. The format encourages us to listen to the voices of some of those facing terminal illness, and helpful preparatory 'exercises' are suggested. There is a strong chapter on 'Resources from the (Christian) Tradition' which is very much cross-centred. The author explicitly excludes addressing the matter of life after death, but this is more than made up for by the final appendix comprising a brief anthology of prayers and spiritual readings.

The book is full of arresting thoughts, off which these are some of my favourites: 'To give is to be powerful; to receive is to be vulnerable' … 'we may have to accept that for many years we have been tolerated rather than loved' … 'To face death is to let go of the future. It is to live in the present. There is no easy way of doing this' … 'learning to die is the key to our freedom' …'Christ created his own death. He gave himself to it' …

Get this book and cherish it. Read it slowly. Use it as a practical resource. Take to heart what it says. It is a small treasure.

Albert Jewell


If you think that death makes for morbid reading, then you need to read this book. For one of its messages is that we begin to die from the moment we are born, and that we need to prepare for death during life, to 'practise dying', if we are to die well.

James Woodward, who was Bishop Richard's first chaplain, is well-placed to lead thinking about death and dying: he spent a year as an auxiliary nurse at St Christopher's Hospice, south London, and is now founding director of a centre in the Midlands for the study of ageing, spirituality and social policy. He was for several years chaplain to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, and has a book on illness to his name.

One of the characteristic strengths of his writing is the space given to different voices which talk about the subject from a personal angle, and which root the discussion in the reality of diversity and people's lived experiences. Another strength of this book is its recurrent attention to the practicalities of death and dying. Yet a third strength is that the perspective of faith is not assumed, or intrusive, but unapologetically present, and offered as a resource. This means that the book may be as useful to someone uncommitted to Christian faith as to someone committed, whether facing the death of a loved one, or facing death themselves, or simply endeavouring to embrace the reality of death more honestly and creatively 'in the midst of life'.

Michael Brierley