The Elephant in the Room
The Elephant in the Room is a four-day event in Wales aimed at informing, engaging and inspiring the public on all aspects of end of life, writes Antonia Rolls.
Death and dying is not an easy subject to consider. Finding a way to talk about these subjects with those we need to is often difficult; even alarming. Death is often considered the elephant in the room.
And so, in Swansea from 30 October - 2 November, a thoughtful, inspirational and informative event is taking place to highlight the need to notice, and engage with, this elephant.
The Elephant in the Room is the brainchild of husband and wife Jim Fox and Kiera L. Jones (pictured right). Kiera is a palliative care nurse, soul midwife and complementary therapist, and Jim is an inspirational speaker, author and musician. Jim and Kiera also run The Centre in Swansea where people with a life-limiting condition and their carers can receive complementary therapy, support, information and understanding.
Palliative care has always been Kiera’s nursing choice. “Even a small action can have a huge benefit for someone’s comfort and personal experience,” she says. As a soul midwife, she offers a bespoke service to people who need support through the dying process or in planning for their end. This may involve anything from assisting someone with writing their advance decision (living will) or funeral plan to offering practical support such as personal care.
Jim’s experience with his parents, who were diagnosed with cancer within weeks of each other and died within months of each other, led him to want to help others cope with the process of dying. “It was a privilege for me to be able to spend their last weeks, days and hours with them,” says Jim. “Together we prepared for the end of their lives, planning their funerals, putting their affairs in order and making those last moments count. For me, it was life changing, and I knew that what I was learning would stay with me to help take away the fear of death and dying for others in the future.”
Jim and Kiera say that pretending death and dying don't exist turn it into something as huge as the proverbial elephant in the room. Encouraging people to think about it and ask questions means they are better able to make informed decisions about what they would like for themselves when their time comes. Or perhaps, more importantly, what they wouldn’t like for themselves.
The Elephant in the Room is intended to stimulate awareness and encourage discussion. Jim and Kiera have sought to include as many approaches to the end of life discussion as possible. There will be a full programme of talks from a diverse selection of speakers over the four days, including: Dr Penny Sartori, author of The Wisdom of Near Death Experiences; solicitor Cath Burgess, who will talk about the importance of writing a Will; a Cruse Bereavement Care representative; crystal therapist Jacqui Bastock, who will discuss the benefits crystals can bring to the dying process; Rob Donovan from Organ Donation Wales, who will be address recent changes to the transplant register in Wales; and Swami Suryananda of Skanda Vale Hospice.
There will also be presentations from soul midwives, an interview with a cancer patient on how living with a terminal diagnosis has brought about changes in her life, and a multi-faith forum in which representatives from different faiths and cultures will discuss how they approach death and dying. Alongside this, there are presentations from The Old Mill Foundation for Cancer Care, Ellie’s Friends, Maggie’s and The Centre.
Alongside the talks and discussions will be a number of information stands and exhibitions, including my exhibition, A Graceful Death, which comprises of 52 paintings and portraits, interviews and films, music and essays, all telling the stories of who is dying, and how they are doing it. I describe it as a loving, honest and unsentimental collection. Alongside each painting are words from the sitter, telling us something about them, together with poems sent in by people moved by the paintings. The exhibition is about the miracle of life and death, the power of our spirit to keep going and the majesty and awe of death which is beyond explanation. A Graceful Death tours the country, with the intention to help start the conversation about the end of life, which is so important to not only how we die, but how we live.
The Elephant in the Room is being held at the YMCA in Swansea. It opens with a concert, Not the End: an evening of acoustic music, song and storytelling. The bill includes story teller and singer Jade Buck weaving snatches of folk music through her stories; husband and wife duo Dizzi and Ralph Cree, creating magical melodies on a selection of unusual acoustic instruments; and Jim Fox performing music from his CD Further on Down the Road – Songs For Life.
Tickets for Not the End are £7.50, £5.00 concessions £3.00 under 14. The concert starts at 7.30pm.
Friday and Saturday night sees a performance of the play Colder Than Here by Laura Wade, directed by Jim Fox. Kiera says: “While we were on holiday a couple of years ago we saw a production of Colder Than Here. With his background in the theatre, and because of its subject matter, Jim was really keen to bring the play to Swansea. The Elephant In The Room provided the opportunity to do so. The play is funny, poignant and powerful as it explores the relationships between family members as they come to terms with the impending death of the mother."
Tickets are £7.50 and £5.00 concessions. The play starts at 7.30pm Saturday 1 November.
Jim and Kiera, along with all those who support and help with the work that they do, welcome all of you to this exciting, lively and thought-provoking event. Tickets for the concert and the play are available from The Centre, while the day-time talks and exhibition entrance is free of charge. All proceeds from the event will go to support the work of The Centre and A Graceful Death.