In contemporary Western culture death and dying are generally regarded as something to fight against, deny, hide from public view and above all fear.
But what if we were to look at them differently? Despite understandable fear and denial, there are good reasons to explore death and dying. Thinking about the end of life–our own and that of others–can make us our lives richer, deeper and more valuable to us. If we understand it we can better prepare for own deaths and the deaths of those we love. Death, in truth is a normal part of life.
So how do we change?
Inspired by the trailblazers in this field, our contribution is to start a local festival of death and dying in early November which is the time our culture has traditionally remembered the dead. In other countries this is a time of gathering of friends and family to celebrate the dead and make death a normal part of life. We see this time as an opportunity we could make more of in our communities- hence a non-religious festival of death and dying open to all people with a faith or no faith.
We are piloting a sustainable and replicable celebration that could be put together in any town, city or village. Our goal is to create something special that meets the needs of our community but also spreads the word and inspires others and so a death friendly county and country might be created!
The aim of the festival is to help build a death-friendly society: where death and dying is shared and understood. A festival offers the opportunity to dissolve the death taboo and the many social and psychological problems that stem from it.
The Festival is an invitation to share grief, explore death, combat fear, be inspired and encouraged to talk about death with each other.
The festival recognises that there are many barriers to participation in a festival of death and dying: finances, transport, physical and learning impairments, marginalisation of social groups, taboos and fear of ‘getting it wrong’ or ‘not belonging’. It aims through a clear set of principles (below) to do it’s best to overcome these barriers and ensure the widest possible participation by the largest possible number across all sections of the community. It cannot guarantee success in this respect only it’s best efforts to conceive, imagine and execute actions to enable this and will continuously re-evaluate and search for innovative and better ways to maximize inclusion.
The festival recognises that there is not a ‘one size fits all’. People have different tastes, preferences, beliefs and associations and so we encourage a diversity of offerings in a range of venues to allow individual members or sections of the community to find an entry point that feels comfortable for them. We hope too that a varied and intriguing range of offerings will encourage curiosity and a desire to explore.
To create safe spaces to explore death and dying, gentleness and kindness are vital. We have chosen the word safety as an umbrella term for need for gentle, kind and respectful responses by those participating in hosting the event. This is particularly important when considering who will ‘person’ the event, stewards, welcomers, facilitators. Whilst we hope that all participants will be made to feel safe and accepted the principle of safety does not exclude the expression of passion, humour and colour!
The festival recognizes that fear is an obstacle to entry. Therefore it encourages total transparency in it’s aims, how it organises itself and in particular, how events are described. Contributors are encouraged to describe clearly what will take place and the religious, spiritual or philosophical beliefs that informs their offering. We hope that knowing what to expect will reduce uncertainty and encourage participations
In order to create safety and inclusion respect is vital. What do we mean by this? An accepting attitude to the different beliefs around death and dying even if they don’t fit with our own. The festival acknowledges the distress that fear and uncertainty around death creates: therefore how each individual finds reconciliation and peace with it must honoured as valid. We do not seek to persuade anyone of anything other than the possibility of finding greater ease with death and dying and celebrate the achievement of this in whatever shape or form it takes for any individual.
No events will be ticketed but no event is ‘free’ in the sense that the contributors will have had to source funds to host the event. To this end all contributions to the Festival will adopt a financial co-response-ability model.
This festival has a core principle of inclusion. This means no event will be ticketed, no-one will be asked to pay at entry. However each event will have cost the contributor’s time and money, so in this sense it is not free. In recognition of this participants in the event will be asked to share the responsibility for resourcing the event with the contributors (hosts of the event) by making a financial contribution. This can bye anything from 5p to £50 according to the participant’s means.
By making a contribution of whatever size the participants can show their appreciation for what they have experienced and help create the same possibilities for themselves and others in the future.