‘Dying Matters Awareness Week’ in the UK ended yesterday.
For those who don’t know, Dying Matters is a coalition of 32,000 members across England and Wales — including the NHS, bereavement charities, social service organisations, academic bodies and more — which aims to help people talk more openly about dying, death and bereavement, and to make plans for the end of life.
‘Dying Matters Awareness Week’ happens every May and involves the coalition members, as well as members of the public, hosting hundreds of events across the UK. These can be anything from Death Cafes to art exhibitions, funeral planning workshops to film screenings — all designed to get people talking about death, dying and grief.
This year, Dying Matters asked the public one thing:
#WhatCanYouDo? They put together some ideas and kick started some interesting Twitter conversations. Even though the official awareness week has finished, I believe it is so important to keep talking about death, dying and bereavement. So, here are ten things that I’d like to suggest that you, as readers, do to further the cause:
1. Explore websites or blogs which share people’s personal stories of death, dying and bereavement. I’d recommend Modern Loss as well as Dying Digitally, one of the first terminal illness blogs I ever read. But, there are hundreds more. Go hunt them out and share them with friends.
2. Watch a film or documentary about grief. I have a personal love of Nick Cave — so much so that the first dance at my wedding was to his song ‘People Ain’t No Good‘. It is no surprise then that I’d recommend the stunning documentary One More Time With Feeling which follows him after the death of his son. You can read about the film, its aim and process here and here.
3. Explore art or visit an exhibition about death, dying or grief. I am still in love Sarah Treanor’s ‘Still Life‘ photography project, made after losing her husband.
4. Read memoirs. CS Lewis’ A Grief Observed is a classic. But I also love H is for Hawk, When Women Were Birds, The Voluntourist, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Excerpts from a Family Medical Dictionary and countless others.
5. Read fiction. I don’t read much fiction nowadays but value it greatly and have, like many others, fallen in love with the dynamic approach Max Porter took in Grief is a Thing with Feathers. Have a look.
6. Read poetry. Shelly Wagner, Laura Barnes, Sharon Olds, Pascale Petite, Christopher Reid. There are so many wonderful poets out there! You can even join me at a UK poetry event where I’ll be reading from my debut collection about losing my Dad. Over the next few months you will find me in Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Brighton, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Belfast and more. Come listen and have a chat! I always appreciate hearing other people’s thoughts and stories.
7. Attend a Death Cafe or Death Writing workshop. Death Cafes are becoming increasingly popular and can be found all around the USA and UK. They are free and are a great place to learn and talk about death, dying and bereavement openly. I also run a free Death Writing series in Cardiff for anyone nearby. They’ll be starting up again in September 2017.
8. Help a bereaved friend. I love the practical tips for helping people who are grieving in this Guardian article on ‘How to live and learn from great loss‘ and in this New York Times article on ‘The Art of Condolence‘.
9. Volunteer or donate to a charity which supports bereaved people. My own research into bereavement by addiction has been supported by a few wonderful organisations, including DrugFAM, The Compassionate Friends and Cruse but there are so many more.
10. Talk about your grief or your fears about dying with someone you know. I spoke about losing my Dad to friends first, then colleagues, then workshop participants and then to 400 people at Ignite Cardiff. Talk about it when and where it feels right to you.
If you try any of these suggestions above please let me know how you get on. And, if there is anything else you think belongs on the list please let me know by leaving a comment or Tweeting me @writetoempower. Let’s keep this conversation going.