Photo by loli Clement on Unsplash
Virtual autopsies, groundbreaking arts, quiz nights and lashings of tea and cake will be a part of the UK’s annual memento-mori festival aimed at encouraging the nation to think more positively about death.
More than 350 death positive events are taking place in towns, cities and community spaces around the country from May 14 – 20, to mark Dying Matters Awareness Week
A big part of the focus is to help the nation become less afraid and more ‘death literate’ – with events ranging from conversations over coffee about preparing for something that will one day happen to us all, to week-long fiestas packed with exhibitions, films and unusual diary dates.
This year, the theme is What Can You Do? to become more aware, prepared and also support friends and neighbours, or volunteer to make a difference.
Behind Dying Matters Awareness Week is Hospice UK and a coalition of organisations that support people towards the end of their lives, care for the dying and help the bereaved. Members include hospices, charities and funeral homes, as well as schools, hospitals and community groups.
Dying Matters’ Toby Scott says that communities from Helston in Cornwall to Aberdeen have embraced the idea of addressing death, in some highly inventive ways.
“People have just gone for it,” he said.
“We’re really excited about this year. It’s about encouraging conversations and there’s always a lot of creative stuff going on, but it’s amazing what people have come up with and the brilliance of some of the ideas.”
You can search for events and find out what’s happening near you on this interactive map. Here’s a pick that may inspire you.
Take a crematorium tour
If you’ve ever wondered what happens when the curtain closes after a funeral service, there’s the opportunity to take a behind-the-scenes peek at a number of crematoria during Dying Matters Awareness Week.
Reading, Croydon, Bretby and Cheshire’s Vale Royal Crematorium are among those opening their doors for tours. They’ll be answering questions, dispelling myths and also revealing some of the stories behind monuments you’ll discover on heritage walks around their grounds.
While there’ll be no real blood or body parts in the virtual autopsy pathologist Dr Suzy Lishman will be performing at the North Staffordshire Conference Centre, this event on 15 May is not recommended for the very squeamish.
In medicine and forensics, virtual autopsies use 3D scans and computer technology to explore the ins and outs of how someone died.
Dr Suzy is a consultant histopathologist at Peterborough City Hospital. She has performed hundreds of virtual autopsies in events open to curious members of the public. She is also the pioneer of National Pathology Week and International Pathology Day, encouraging experts around the world to open their laboratory doors and shine a light on their fascinating work.
Dead Good Festival
Discover how some celebrities have made a fortune by dying, tour a crematorium and or get creative at a workshop to make art from memorabilia. There’s a host of events to get you thinking and talking – as well as helpings of cake – at venues in and around York during its Dead Good Festival during Dying Matters Awareness Week 2018.
During this festival week being staged by St Leonard’s Hospice, there’ll also be a ghost walk around famous city haunts and the chance to find out what we have in common with the ancient civilisations who created continuing bonds with the dead.
Call the Soul Midwife
After caring for her parents and other close members of her family at the end of their lives, Jude Meryl trained to become a soul midwife, or doula – helping people to feel at peace, when they die. Bringing a spirit of comfort in someone’s final days, soul midwifery is a holistic palliative care helping to make death a less frightening experience.
Jude will be talking more about her fascinating work in Call the Soul Midwife at the Midlands Arts Centre on May 17.
Brum YODO – A Matter of Life & Death Festival
You only die once – so here’s how to live, put your affairs in order and plan a fabulous funeral. There are scores of events, from film screenings and a to talking about death over a three-course dinner, taking place during Birmingham’s A Matter of Life & Death Festival, which also includes a cremaTOURium with a behind-the-scenes peek at what goes on after a funeral.
In fact, there’s so much on at this community collective’s fiesta-del-muerte that it runs until May 26.
The Corpse Project
Many Dying Matters events explore how we can have a good death, but what’s the ideal way for our bodies to play a part in nature’s cycle? Sophie Churchill is the founder of the Corpse Project, exploring the science, spiritual beliefs and personal philosophies that matter when it comes to how people are laid to rest.
From being eaten by vultures to woodland burials, Sophie will shine a light on final commitals that are kind to the environment and play their part in the circle of life. The event takes place at Redbridge Library, London E11, on May 22.
Hello My Name Is
Playwright Brian Daniels has written a number of plays being performed at venues around the UK during Dying Matters Awareness Week. Hello My Name Is is based on the story of Kate Granger, who after a cancer diagnosis transitioned from being a doctor to patient.
The play’s based on Kate’s warm, funny and touching blog about living with a terminal illness – and her campaign to inspire fellow medical professionals to see the person, not simply the patient. It can all begin, she said, with a simple introduction.
With The End In Mind
“My weapon of choice is stories,” says Kathryn Mannix, who’s on a mission to help more of us talk about dying, with the people we love best. She’s based a book, With The End In Mind, around the what she’s learned from people with a terminal illness, who’ve embraced the time they have to live.
Kathryn is a doctor who has worked to improve the life that people have left when they are dying – it’s possible to focus more fully on living, she says, when we face the fear and talk.
Dr Kathryn is also visiting Twickenham, Canterbury, Shrewsbury, Teesside and Newcastle during Dying Matters Awarness Week. Visit withtheendinmind.co.uk for all her book tour dates and venues.
A walk in the woods
There are a host of Death Cafés happening during Dying Matters Awareness Week 2018. These are based around a movement bringing people in local communities together to chat about the meaning of life and death in informal surroundings.
Treetops Hospice Care is inviting people to join them in an alfresco version, on a gentle walk in Derbyshire’s beautiful Roliston Wood on May 15. It’s a chance to share your own life experiences and discuss what’s important at the end – with the afternoon rounding off with tea and cake.
The walk is part of a wider Compassionate Communities scheme, encouraging people to reach out to others in their local neighbourhood who are dying, through small but significant acts of friendship and kindness.
If you're intrigued by the Death Café movement, you can search for an event taking place near where you live, or find out about how to host your own, at deathcafe.com
Around the world, hundreds of people volunteer to sing soothing acapella songs to people who are dying. They are part of a network of Threshold Choirs, creating music with their voices that can soothe and help people on the threshold of death to relax let go. It’s a healing art that’s also known as music thanatology.
During Dying Matters Awareness Week 2018, Cornwall’s Threshold Choir, Liminal, will be singing at Roselidden wellbeing centre in Helston. Listen and become enveloped in their beautiful music on May 14.
Dead or alive quiz night
Which famous philosopher was preserved in a display case and is still receiving visitors over 180 years since he died?
Funeral Zone’s fascinating features, dying matters resources and blog may help you gen up for a quiz night with a focus on all things death and dying, at the Trent Vale bowling club, Stoke-on-Trent on May 18.
Organised by members of the city teaching hospital’s Macmillan specialist care team, ticket holders get a fish and chip supper and the bar will be open until late.