As well as doing my chaplaincy stuff, I am, of course, a vicar in a church (well, three churches to be precise). I spend a significant amount of my time either with the dying, or helping families to say goodbye to their loved one at the funeral.
I go to more funerals in a year than most people. This is something that my mum forgets from time to time. When I ring her and tell her I’ve been to a funeral, she often replies “Oh, I am sorry.” “It’s OK mum, it’s my job.”
Overseeing funerals is an honour, and I’ve even done one or two for relatives of staff at college. It’s not unusual to catch the familiar eye of a student of two at a local funeral service. It can often feel though like all I deal with is death, so I often struggle to keep a perspective that most of the people that I help to say goodbye to are old. Death is something I also forget other people don’t talk about very often.
I’m not bothered about dying. I’d rather it happen when I’m older, but it doesn’t worry me too much. Other people, I’ve noticed, do not share my view (although the new movement of “death cafes” to encourage discussion is intended to help people open up). And facing the inevitability of our own demise is something more than a few people would rather not consider at all. In the words of Woody Allen: “I’m not scared of death, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
Our learners are no exception. Talk of death is not something that commonly occurs in the canteen or common room. But when it does crop up, it’s rarely talked about in the context that most of us will find ourselves in when we meet the Reaper: old, in hospital and medicated. For our young people, the talk of death can often go hand in hand with accident or drama, and I guess for many of them if it were to happen at this age, a car crash is the most likely scenario. The dramatic death does have a kind of bizarre, twisted romance to it. But statistics show that the deck is stacked against going out in a blaze of glory: selfie sticks kill more people than sharks (as do toasters, vending machines, ants and bath tubs).
Some colleges have policies in place for major incidents, such as a shooting spree. Our college recently led tutorials for learners on “Run, Hide, Tell” – three things to remember should a dreadful day like Columbine or Dunblane ever happen here in Worksop. And while it’s important to be prepared and to think what to do if the worse will happen, it’s important to remember that these incidents are very, very rare. After all, we are not training our learners about the dangers of paperclips (eight attributed deaths last year), falling out of bed (450) or hippos (3,000). Run, hide, tell, but also keep it in perspective – disaster is very, very unlikely.
Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College @revkatebottley