Day of the Dead 2014
Celebrating the day of the Dead: Remembering those who have died
Our annual Day of the Dead celebration took place on Monday 3 November at the Institute of Latin American Studies, University of London. This year's event had a new focus on bereavement and remembrance, and how our shared culture and history influences our attitudes and behaviours. We were delighted to welcome our biggest ever crowd, with over 100 people in attendance.
Remembrance: learning from history and different cultures
Learning from the Mexican Day of the Dead - Chloë Sayer
Independent scholar Chloë Sayer, who has written a number of books about Mexican popular culture and the Day of the Dead, kicked off the day with a fascinating talk explaining the key cultural aspects of the Día de Muertos in Mexico. She covered the historical and religious origins of the festival, as well as explaining traditions and customs, such as how families visit cemeteries and decorate the graves of loved ones who have died, the important role food plays in celebrating the Day of the Dead, and the involvement of children in mourning and remembrance. "Children grow up in Mexico knowing about death," said Chloë. "It's not something that's kept secret from them."
British views around dying, death and bereavement: A historical context - Prof Douglas Davies
Contrasting Mexican traditions around bereavement and remembrance with those in our own country was Professor Douglas Davies, Director of the Centre for Death and Life Studies and Professor in the Study of Religion at Durham University. Douglas shared his views and research on how cultural and religious shifts in the nation's history have contributed to our attitudes around dying. The broad and varied talk took in the industrial revolution, World Wars of the 20th Century and the foundation of the NHS, to name just a few. Douglas noted that 70 per cent of people in the UK are now cremated rather than buried, a huge change in national behaviour that is often overlooked, and that we are moving away from an attitude of "get over it" to one of continuing bonds with others.
Dying Matters Bereavement campaign - Claire Henry, Debbie Kerslake and Jane Harris
When someone you know has been bereaved, it’s not always easy to know the right things to say or do to help them. Even if we mean well and just want to offer support, it can be difficult to know where to start. Claire Henry, Chief Executive of Dying Matters and lead charity the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC), took to the podium to launch our new campaign Being There, which aims to help people show they care and help others at a difficult time. The campaign includes a new information leaflet, which you can download now or order from our online shop. Claire also announced that Find Me Help, our comprehensive database of the UK’s support services for people in the last years of life, is now available to license as a branded micro-site.
Campaign supporters Cruse Bereavement Care work with 50,000 bereaved people every year. Chief Executive Debbie Kerslake explained the vital work that Cruse do, and how they support people after the death of a loved one. "When you lose someone you love, you often become even more isolated," said Debbie. "We need to get better at knowing what to say, and knowing what not to say".
Jane Harris spoke next. Jane is a member of NCPC's People in Partnership Group and Trustee of The Compassionate Friends, who are also supporters of Being There. Jane's son Josh died in a road accident in 2001 at the age of 22, and describing other people's reactions to her bereavement, she said "you become like the bad fairy at the happy gathering". Delegates watched an excerpt from "Say Their Name", a film produced for The Compassionate Friends by Jane and her partner Jimmy in which grieving parents and siblings speak openly and candidly about their bereavement.
After a question and answer session with all the morning's speakers, delegates took a break for refreshments, and a chance to visit the exhibitions, displays and the colourful altar. Since we first hosted the Day of the Dead celebration, Dying Matters members and staff have placed pictures, mementos and tributes on the altar for loved ones who have died, a tradition that is warmly received each year. Exhibition stalls hosted materials from Dying Matters and Cruse Bereavement Care, as well as a demonstration stand for Find Me Help. We were also delighted to display artwork from Sarah Smizz, who illustrated people's wishes for their final send-off as part of Sheffield Cancer Mafia's #myfuneral tweet chat during this year's Awareness Week.
Dying Matters Members – How we are remembering people
The second session was chaired by Claire Henry, and focused on what Dying Matters members have been doing to raise awareness and help support people who are bereaved.
To Absent Friends: A people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance - Mark Hazelwood
Mark Hazelwood joined us again to talk about To Absent Friends, a new festival in Scotland which was celebrated for the first time this year, from 1-7 November. The festival aims to give people across Scotland an excuse to remember, to tell stories, to celebrate and to reminisce about people they love who have died, to revive lost traditions and create new ones. "As time passes losses change but they endure," said Mark.
Stocks Hall Nursing Home – What we did for Dying Matters Awareness Week 2014 - Lisa Fletcher and Sue Gaskell
Hundreds of Dying Matters member organisations around the country hosted events during this year's Awareness Week in May, and Stocks Hall Nursing Home in Skelmersdale was no exception. Lisa and Sue gave a comprehensive and practical presentation on how they planned, organised, advertised and carried out their activities, which had a theme of butterflies, "to remind us that death is just another transformation". As one example, home-reared butterflies were released as a unique way to honour and remember loved ones. Lisa and Sue also explained how they plan to make the work sustainable and shared plans for their future events.
St Giles Hospice: Working with schools - Ian Leech and Julia Hayburn
Working with young people who have lost family or friends presents unique challenges. Ian Leech, Community Engagement Manager at St Giles Hospice, shared stories and moving photographs from the hospice's varied community activities, which include art projects with John Taylor High School and a Staff Bereavement Programme for schools. Julia Hayburn, Director of Student Support at Chase Terrace Technology College, then showed us the benefits of this engagement. Stephen Sutton, who was a student at the college, died aged 19 in May this year. Through his inspiring posts on social media, charity campaigns with other students, and his bucket list of ambitions which gained national press attention, Stephen raised millions to support other young people with cancer and was an inspiration to people worldwide. Julia showed how a considered approach, and the vital support of the hospice and Cruse Bereavement Care, helped staff and students to prepare for Stephen's death and supported them through their grief after he died, an especially difficult situation in the face of media attention.
Online Digital Legacy - James Norris
The day's final presentation was from James Norris, CEO of DeadSocial. James said that as with so much else in life, the way we are remembered after death is moving increasingly away from the physical and into the digital - from Facebook memorial pages to loved ones keeping old text messages as mementos. However, there are serious practical concerns that come with this shift towards the digital and online realms. James' presentation laid out what happens to our data after we die and how this varies between different websites and social networks, as well as showing some of the unique approaches some are taking to remember their loved ones online.
Videos from presentation: Lawrence Darani speaks about creating a digital legacy; Bob Monkhouse - give a few bob; Tupac - legacy remixed (strong language)
Celebrating the Day of the Dead
After another Q&A opportunity with all the speakers from the session, and Claire Henry's closing remarks to sum up the day, attendees had the chance to enjoy Mexican treats, and even a margarita or two, as we celebrated the Day of the Dead in style. Musical accompaniment was provided by a mariachi band led by Franco Venegas. It was marvelous to catch up with so many members of Dying Matters and hear the plans you have in the works, and we hope you'll be able to join us next year!
If you'd like more information about the day, the campaigns and projects presented, or plans for next year and Awareness Week 2015, please call us on 0800 021 44 66 or email email@example.com.