Specialising in public engagement and systems approaches to managing change. Associate with the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement and University of Bristol.

When Death Comes

It may sound a cliché, but there is only one certainty in life; and that is death. According to a Google search on ‘certainties in life’ there are actually two certainties not one: death and taxes. But whether it was Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Defoe or Mark Twain who originally said this, and surely with tongue firmly placed in cheek, I’m going to stick to the one certainty for now.

Given how certain death is for all of us, it is probably the thing we reflect on the least in our day-to-day lives. This may seem normal, except that we love certainties don’t we? They usually provide comfort, a reference point, and a sense of security, whether it is Fish Friday, Match of the Day on Saturday, your morning coffee or the response you get from your partner when you do that thing you do. We need certainty.

Perhaps we automatically jump to the morbid, to the painful and yet death is such a vital part of life. There is so much we can learn from each other and our experiences of it. In her well-known book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: A Life Transformed by the Dearly Departing, Bronnie Ware reflects on what she has learnt from the elderly towards the end of their lives. For example every man she spoke to said a version of “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” and often lamented missing so many moments in their children’s lives.

Conversation is important to how we share knowledge, and deepen our understanding of something. The harder a thing is to share, the more we are stuck with a limited and cautious language through which to relate to one another. As Michael Black reflects in Father’s Day 2011 the language of death is curiously proscribed. It is he says, the one occasion where the spoken word resembles the language of greeting cards. Having lost his father age 12, he tells the story of returning to School the following week and meeting his best friend at the Bus Stop. “I’m sorry for your loss,” his friend says, in a rigid and prescribed way. How odd Michael recounts: “two 12-year-old boys shaking hands at the playground bus stop. I want to laugh and pump his hand and say in a bad British accent, ‘Pleasure to make your acquaintance’.”

Later this year between the dates of 16 September – 11 October, I will be working with my close friend Phillippa Bayley on a project called ‘When death comes’.  It’s an opportunity for people to come together and share their creative responses to living and dying. The project is built around her mum’s Sabine’s and Phillippa art work.  As befits Sabine’s and Phillippa’s creative and curious spirit we’ll be hosting an open artspace as well as a series of thought-provoking and inspiring events across Bristol.

You can see all the details on the projects website: http://whendeathcomes.uk/.

I will be selecting a short selection of films that expand on the projects themes. Titles being shortlisted include: Mi Madre, Amour, How to Die in Oregon, Ikiri, Greifwalker and Love in Our Own Time. The project is important to me because at thirty-five (‘half my allotted years’ as they say) my body has started to slow down, as evidenced by what I can no longer do on the football pitch.

The full programme will be announced shortly. It would be wonderful if you could join for any of the events. We will be raising money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association at all of our events.


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