Highlighting our raison d’être: ‘Every death matters and we only have one chance to get it right’ Jean Callanan, Chair of Irish Hospice Foundation, re-affirmed our belief in the importance of creative people addressing dying, death and bereavement at our first Arts and Creative Engagement Roundtable Gathering in Dublin on 15th June last.
MC on the day, Dominic Campbell, our Arts and Creative Engagement Lead, referenced how Creative Ireland’s support since the programme began three years ago has allowed us to be intentional in using creativity to provide people with more opportunities to discuss grief and loss, noting:
In collaboration with the brave people we serve, we are continuously finding innovative ways to engage with the dying, the bereaved, carers, and caring professionals. We have started to uncover nuance beneath the less addressed areas of loss, communities of diversity, and local pockets of compassionate creative activities.
On the day a summary video showcased some of the ways we have explored and collaborated with individuals and organisations on ways to open up conversations about bereavement using a diverse range of creative practices. It prompted a lively discussion amongst delegates representing artists, cultural, health, community, academic, voluntary, educational, and state agencies.
Delegates heard contributions from an emotionally literate crop of speakers drawn from our Seed Grants programme. Selected topics covered a wide spectrum of losses, with tangible examples given on the benefits of creative work in loss and bereavement.
- Bridget Mulligan gave searing and humorous insights into a community of male motorbikers and their processing of sudden bereavements as told in ‘Freebirds’, a documentary film she collaborated on. More on this and a trailer is available here.
- Jenny Macdonald got everyone in the room up and moving as a means of identifying how we were feeling through making shapes. Jenny also gave a background to a stage play she’s currently developing with us, and the ‘tightrope’ she walked after a breast cancer diagnosis.
- Neva Elliott delivered a powerful presentation about what turning PTSD caused by complicated grief into art means to her. Essentially, for Neva, it’s about making others feel they’re not alone by saying the hard things so they don’t have to. You can find out more about Neva’s project with us – ‘The Last Door My Father Walked Through’ – here.
- Marita Hennessy, a Postdoctoral Researcher within the Pregnancy Loss Research Group, INFANT Centre at University College Cork, presented an overview of the Group’s recently published graphic narrative ‘Why my baby died’. Beautifully illustrated by Amy Lauren, Marita spoke about how the Group wanted to explore different ways to break the stigma and start conversations about parents’ experiences of pregnancy and perinatal loss in maternity hospitals. More information, along with the narrative, is available here.
- Dr Trudy Meehan of the RCSI told us the story behind her fictional book ‘The Way Home’, explaining the book tries to respond to a question she hears all too often from those impacted by suicide: ‘If they really loved me, they wouldn’t have done this, was I not enough?’ More on this, along with examples of Fergal O’Connor’s gorgeous illustrations accompanying the text, can be found here.
Following lunch and more lively conversations about the positive impact of harnessing the power of arts in mental health programmes generally, there were three panel discussions.
The first panel focussed on potential strategies for developing, sustaining and diversifying our Compassionate Culture Networks (CCNs). Panellists included Rebecca Strain of CCN Donegal, Melody Chadamoyo of CCN Dublin (Tallaght), and Sorcha Keane of CCN Dublin (Ballymun).
The second and third panels focused on exploring new territories, such as climate change grief, circular economies, diverse funerals, and artists in service to people at end of life. Panellists included Elaine Mears, AlanJames Burns, Martha McCulloch, Kevin Toolis, and Caroline Schofield.
Dominic Campbell concluded the day by stating:
Our aim going forward is to build even better collaboration across disciplines and sectors, to socialise understanding, to produce evaluation processes with wider value so that the primary aim of ‘a good death’ – a reduction in fear or mental anguish at a point of crisis in people’s lives, and the opportunity to heal or adapt – becomes more widely available. We now hope to solidify already successful strategies while remaining sensitive and responsive to less visible needs.
Both during and following the event, many reported they were inspired to be brave and to sit with difficult things. Hence, our core ambition to continue creating more opportunities for people to discuss grief and loss, was also achieved. That said, while we are both humbled and delighted with the positive feedback, all credit must go to everyone’s enthusiastic participation on the day, and we will endeavour to remain as brave as those we serve.
More about this event and a full list of speakers and their profiles is available here.
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