good life, good death, good grief

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To Absent Friends - A festival to remember

Next week, Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief launch the eighth annual To Absent Friends festival. Heralded as a ‘people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance’ the festival takes place from 1-7 November across Scotland - online, in public spaces and in people’s hearts and minds.

The festival, which started in 2014, is a chance to remember loved ones who have died, through stories, celebrations and acts of reminiscence. Anyone can participate, in whatever way they choose.

“Loved ones who have died live on in our stories and memories,” says Rebecca Patterson of Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief, the alliance of organisations behind the festival. “But maybe we don’t always get the right moment to speak about them or share those stories with others. To Absent Friends is a chance to do that. We want people to have a chance to stop and take some time to share those stories – whether it’s just raising a glass, getting the old photo albums out, or something more formal.”

In the years before covid-19, the festival encompassed a wide variety of events, from concerts and poetry nights to woodland walks and tea parties. However, this year covid has made it tricky to plan public events and large get-togethers, so this year’s festival sees an innovative range of outside events, small gatherings and online meetups.

“Over the last 18 months, so much loss has been suffered by so many, and covid-19 has prevented people from getting their usual support from friends and family. This has made life really hard for people who are grieving. The To Absent Friends festival is an opportunity and an excuse for people to take a moment in their busy lives to remember people who have died, whether recently or long ago.” Says Mark Hazelwood, Chief Executive of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care.

Local communities from across Scotland are getting involved in the festival by planning their own events. In Portobello, Action Porty have organized Beach Bonfires where locals can share stories and memories, take part in creative remembrance activities, and warm themselves by the fire. In Fife, Lochgelly Brass Band plan to perform an outdoor concert and release a virtual performance of remembrance music, paying tribute to people who have died during the pandemic. Meanwhile, in Stonehaven Local Celebrant Fiona Beeley and community-based Feck Radio Productions are putting together a podcast, inviting people to dedicate a piece of music and a tribute to someone significant in their lives who has died.

“When I think back to my own father, the song that always comes to mind is If I Ruled the World by Harry Secombe.” Says Fiona Beeley. “ It always reminds me of my Dad and what a joyful character he was. Through my work as a Funeral Celebrant, I see many people who are grieving, who still have a journey of grief to go on, and music is often a big part of that journey. So I wanted to put together this podcast to give people a chance to share some of those pieces of music and memories that are special to them.”

Festival events can be as big or as small, as public or as private, as people want them to be. Several Care Homes, including Stanely Park Residential Home and Mosswood Care Home in Paisley, and Ancaster House Care Home in Crieff, are organising small private gatherings for residents, staff and relatives to come together, listen to music and remember residents who have died during the pandemic.

“I think that that over the last 18 months, most of us have been craving human connection. And that is what this festival is about – connecting with each other over shared memories and stories. Perhaps this year, when it is hardest to organise a festival, it is more needed than ever before.” says Rebecca Patterson.

To Absent Friends is a reminder, an opportunity and an excuse to create time and space to remember the important people in our lives who have died. Festival organisers are inviting members of the public to get involved, even at short notice, from the comfort of their armchair.

We invite people to visit the festival website www.toabsentfriends.org.uk to share their memories on the online wall of remembrance, add songs to the Remembrance Playlist, or tweet #ToAbsentFriendss throughout the week. A full list of this year’s events is available here: https://www.toabsentfriends.org.uk/blogs/festival-events-2021/

Demystifying Death Week takes place across Scotland

Demystifying Death Week takes place this week (10-16 May), shining a light on death, dying and bereavement in Scotland.

Why?

People usually want to do the right thing when someone they know is caring, dying or grieving. But often they can feel awkward offering help, or worry about making things worse.

People can have questions about serious illness or death. But often they don't know who to ask.

Making plans when you’re healthy means there is less to think about when you’re ill. But often people put off making plans until it is too late.

Demystifying Death week is about giving people knowledge, skills and opportunities to plan and support each other through death, dying, loss and care.

Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief

The week was initiated by Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief – a charity-led collaboration of more than 1000 individuals and organisations that want Scotland to be a place where people can be open about and plan for death, dying and bereavement.

“If people know a bit more about death and dying, they’re in a better position to take control of their own situation, support others, make plans and have informed decisions about what they’d want when the time comes.” said Rebecca Patterson, Director of Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief.

“Sometimes people worry about things, like what to say to someone who’s been bereaved, or being refused CPR. Perhaps having more information about these could help people worry less.

“There are lots of resources out there that provide information, but sometimes it is difficult to know where to look. We want to make this information easier for people to get at, and we’ll sharing a lot of it this week using the hashtag #DemystifyDeath.”

This will include information on the kinds of preparations people can make if they are worried their health may get worse, for example by making a Power of Attorney and talking to the people close to them about an anticipatory care plan. They will also be sharing tips on how ordinary people can provide informal support to a friend or family member who is caring, dying or grieving, and places people can go for more formal support.

New short films

The week sees the launch of six short films, each aiming to demystify a different aspect of death, dying or bereavement. The ‘60 second shorts’ tackle head-on questions such as ‘What do children want to know about death?’, ‘How can I support a young person who’s bereaved?’ and ‘How might someone’s breathing change when they are dying?’.

Events

As well as an online media campaign, various online events are taking place during the week, for example, Say Something Dundee has plans for a Conversation Café, inviting locals to join in a relaxed, informal discussion around local experiences of death, dying, loss and care. The Compassionate Friends invites people to Say their name, to learn more about how to support parents and siblings who have been bereaved. A community in North Berwick will be welcoming community members to an online Armchair Chat, with a combination of music, discussion and input from Kathryn Mannix, author of the book With the end in mind.

A full list of events is available here: https://www.goodlifedeathgrief.org.uk/blogs/demystifying-death-week-2021/

“We’re often told that death is a ‘taboo’ – something that people don’t want to talk about.’ said Rebecca Patterson, Director of GLGDGG. ‘But surveys show that in Scotland most people are actually fairly comfortable talking about death. Perhaps the right opportunities just don’t present themselves. Demystifying Death week is a chance to open up about death, air these topics and become a bit better at supporting each other through these difficult times.”

60 second shorts aim to Demystify Death

This week, Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief has launched six films.

Each lasts around 60 seconds, and aims to demystify a different question about death, dying or bereavement.

What do children want to know about death?

Dr Sally Paul, Senior Lecturer in Social Work at the University of Strathclyde, explores what children what to know about death and how adults can help.

How can I support a young person who is bereaved?

Denisha Killoh from the National Childhood Bereavement Co-ordinator Project, shares her experiences of being bereaved as a teenager.

How might someone’s breathing change when they are dying?

Dr Kathryn Mannix, palliative care doctor and author, explains how someone's breathing might change as they approach the end of life.

I think my health might get worse… what plans should I make?

Dr Judith Marshall, GP in NHS Glasgow, explains some of the plans someone should make if they expect their health to deteriorate.

What do I need to know about CPR?

Dr Juliet Spiller, palliative care consultant at the Marie Curie Edinburgh hospice, explains a little about cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and why having a 'do not attempt cardio-pulmonary resuscitation' form can be important for some people.

If I become too ill to make my own decisions, who will make decisions for me?

Dorothy Kellas, solicitor at Gilson Gray, explains the importance of granting someone you trust a power of attorney so they can make decisions on your behalf if you become unable to make decisions yourself.

All the films are available to view here: Demystifying Death 60 second shorts.

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Bereavement Charter for Scotland
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