After a packed performance at the North Wall last night we officially launch the festival today – 25th October – with an event at Blackwells at 5 pm with Rachael Chadwick author of 50postcards. A chance to hear her extraordinary story, eat delicious skull biscuits, fill in one of our postcards and see our beautiful festival bird takes its maiden swoop and go away with a beautiful badge.
Last night someone wrote on our feedback form
“Oxford should be and feel proud about having the Kicking the Bucket festival – a first step to tackling British awkwardness about dying and death.”
Wonderful to get this support so early on in the festival.
Questions that were asked last night included
Why are we so afraid of really expressing our pain and grief, of weeping and sobbing as others do in different cultures? Surely it can help the process. I talked about the outpouring of grief when Princess Diana died which I have always felt was far more than a response to her sudden and tragic death and as much about a huge subterranean sea of unexpressed tears that suddenly found a legitimate outlet. The British came out on the streets in vast numbers, wept openly, comforted one another, took possession of the public space of the street, the pavement and the railings and created their own improvised huge and constantly evolving monument to death and life.
I also talked about a young widow who was gently advised by a green burial ground manager I know to just lie down on her husband’s grave and let the earth hold her weight and absorb her tears. This she did, day after day until she was done. How lucky that she felt able to take up the invitation, how lucky that the place he was buried in felt like a safe place for her to come and do this. Each of us needs to feel what is right for us and not be too constrained by what we feel is expected or correct. I am often told by people approaching a funeral. I am afraid I may cry. And I say – that is appropriate. No-one will judge you for that. The fear I think is that all our carefully held in tears if allowed to come out will engulf us in a Tsunami of grief and we will be swept away. All the more reason to let the tears come out when they need to not push them back again and again. And there is no right way. We should equally not expect everyone to weep and be expressive with their grief. There is no right way to mourn but to find out what is right for us we need to listen to our bodies. They are usually wiser than our minds in telling us what is appropriate.
Who is a funeral for? Is it for the dead or the living? Whose needs are we trying to meet. We need to be kinder with ourselves and not put ourselves under such pressure to get it all right and perfect. Some people choose not to have funerals. Then how do those left behind respond? They may need
What can we do when our society does not recognise the true importance of some of our relationships? The example used was of the death of a very close friend. When asking for time off from the NHS they were told they could only have it for the death of a mother. She felt in fact she was closer to this friend with whom she had shared a house for many years than she was to her own mother. But she was forced to take unpaid leave to attend the funeral. In previous years this often of course applied in the case of same sex relationships whose true nature was disregarded or totally undervalued. to find other creative ways to come together and remember and honour the person who has died.
How do I broach the subject with my parents? They just don’t seem to want to talk about it at all and it feels very odd just asking them straight out. We talked about the fact that some people really do not want to and there may be no altering that. Palliative care nurse Maggie Callahan said that you have to be careful about taking away denial unless you can put something better in its place. But often everyone is protecting everyone else and it just needs one person to be brave and break the ice. Sometimes we can be strategic and skilful to encourage the conversation to happen. I used a poem once to open a dialogue. Others start by talking about what they want for their own deaths to try and get others to share their own wishes. This festival can be a starting point. We have had parents and adult children come to the festival together in the past which is very moving to witness. Mention it is happening, wave a programme, tell someone about an event you attended, wear one of our badges and when people say “What’s that for?” a conversation has begun. Tell us about other ingenious ways in which you have managed to get people talking. We would love to know.