Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles If you've never been to an Irish wake and have only seen the movie version, you probably think it's just another Irish piss-up, a few people around a coffin drinking pints of Guinness. But you would be very wrong. In my father's island off the coast of Mayo, people go to the wakes of their neighbors, they see dead bodies, they touch dead bodies, they take children to those wakes. So even an ordinary life away from the medical profession would have seen 20, 30, 50, sometimes 100 dead bodies. My father didn't want to die. He was only 70. He was a very powerfully physically fit man. But then he got pancreatic cancer, and pancreatic cancer is one of those cancers that no one ever recovers from. He was quite stoic about it, and more importantly, his community accepted his fate. They came to see him in the dying process. The house filled with visitors. So many visitors that you actually thought the house was celebrating a wedding feast. I was at the foot of my father's deathbed and I looked around and there were 12 people in the room, some of whom I didn't know. And at that moment, the 'Mná chaointe', the Chief Keener struck up a very familiar Catholic prayer called the five sorrowful mysteries. "Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us now and at the hour of our death." And then the chorus returned that other chant, "Holy Mary mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." And when the chorus said that second verse, that sound grew louder and louder and louder in that room until it was almost the loudest sound I've ever heard in my life. And I saw in that moment that what these people were doing, they were cradling this man into death like a lullaby. And that this death was not a Western hospital, but a right within an Irish clan, a way of dealing with death that was probably as old as the fall of Troy, a mechanism by which people could share their death, share this experience, learn about their own deaths. And also share this, normalize this within their community. Later the same day my father, dead father was taken. He was placed in a coffin and just moved a few feet away into the front sitting room. And there we had a full old fashioned Irish wake where the women came - again, they're called the "Mná chaointe", keening women, and they sort of controlled the stage of the wake, the emotional temperature whether they cried and keen. When a new mourner came in, there was a kind of wave of emotion which used to ripple through the room. It was a process by which you drained out emotion, where you moved onto the stages of acceptance of the death. And then, then we waked with my father the whole night through. During this week as well, there were lots of children around, there were three-year-olds and five-year-olds playing at the feet of the coffin. The house is full of people talking, feasting, being served tea and sandwiches. The other thing about the Irish wake is people come in great numbers to the funerals. So my father, although he was a very ordinary man, had 300 or 400 people who came to his funeral who were also under a moral obligation to shake the hands of the principal bereaved. So it wasn't just enough for them to be there in the crowd. They all came up to you and shook your hands, and as they shook your hands, they started like a cliche, they say, "Sorry for your trouble." In fact, they shake your hands so many times that the bones in your hand begin to ache. This is a way of countering death denial because these individuals are shaking your hand, pressing into your flesh and they're saying - it's not just sorry for your trouble, but: they're dead, they're dead, they're dead, they're dead, they're dead. So you, at the end of that, that existential experience, it's very hard to then think they're coming back, which again is a very normal grief reaction. I think the best way to deal with death is not to invent a new ritual or appoint another priest caste of bereavement counselors or medical professionals. It is to do what we've always done and that's gathered together as fellow mortals in the face of our mortality and seek to bridge that moment of bereavement and loss together. Thanks for watching. If you enjoyed that, be sure to check out these videos next. And if you haven't already, hit the subscribe button and click the bell to get a notification each time we upload a new video.