Welcome to our first Festival blog!

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Hello from Liz-

What got me started on all this was the death of a very close friend over twenty years ago and my close involvement with the death and funerals of both my parents and friends, and since then others in my professional work. Through those experiences – both what went wrong and what went right – I learnt a lot about myself and about what helped and didn’t help me find my own journey through the marking and grieving of these deaths. When my father died we were very ready in terms of funeral plans, dying plans etc., but what caught me out were some of the emotional complexities that arose through the dying process because of how our relationship worked and the fact that he changed his mind about what he wanted. For each one of us it will be different. What I knew very clearly was that talking and gathering resources was invaluable. I wanted to make that easier for others. Hence this festival which I began in 2012 and which is now bi-annual. Here is what it’s about:

Conversation – Information – Celebration

Conversation between the contributors and the audience, between festival-goers and festival volunteers, between family and friends, and privately with ourselves through reflection, writing, painting – whatever method works best for each one of us.

Information from the events, this blog, the resources available online and during the festival – from each other once we start to really talk and share experiences. And please keep telling us if we have missed a vital resource that you have found really useful.

Celebration of life – talking, thinking, singing, dancing, drawing, performing, walking, breathing. So many of the joys of being alive are what we also turn to when we die or want to remember someone. The vivid expressions of what it is to be human.

We are excited to see how much more the subject is in the news, how many books are emerging on the subject and how many artists are turning their attention to it in a new way. My new show Outside the Box will appear at Summerhall during the Edinburgh Festival this year and I was approached by the organiser of ‘Death on the Fringe’ because there is now a separate listing for all the death related material. That would not have happened 10 years ago! Death has almost become fashionable which can have its downsides too.

What feels important is to stay honest and open and not create a new problem which has been vividly described as the tyranny of a good death. We cannot control everything in our births, lives or deaths and that is not a reality that most of us find comfortable. There is a wonderful passage in Common Ground by Rob Cowen which describes the moment when the birth of his first child became less straightforward. Having had such an experience myself with my daughter, I totally recognised this description of ‘that wild animal that crept into the room while my guard was down’. He is talking about fear. In The Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula le Guin reminds us that fear will pursue us as long as we run from it. Reading this blog is already a step towards the fear. And the fear reminds us we are alive. As Mary Oliver asks in her poem…  ‘what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’

We hope these regular blogs both from the Festival team and a wide range of guest bloggers will form not only a lively build up to the Festival itself but also create a useful ongoing resource drawing ideas and testimony from a wide field including some topics we will not be able to cover in depth during the festival. Food for thought and inspiration to action long before we actually gather in the autumn.

The planning has of course been going on for months now and I am so grateful to the team that has gathered around me this time. You can read about them on our contributors’ page – Sue Brayne, Edie Campbell, Duncan Forbes and Hazel May. A refreshing mixture of old faces and new, each bringing their particular expertise to the mix and nudging the thinking to stay alive and relevant. We have created a trimmer festival this year, more focused but still with the usual blend of arts, talks and workshops. We’re looking forward to seeing you.

 

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