Feeling life affirmed after talking about death and dying
by Valerie Smith
All houses have known death, and this knowledge binds us to one another.
Storyteller Rosi Lalor reminded us of this universal truth, magnificently weaving together personal grief with that of the collective. We listened, rapt, to her rendition of the Parable of the Mustard Seed, as her protagonist cradled her beloved dead and travelled from house to house looking for a cure. I nodded, rubbing my heart, as the depth of her loss was realized. But we laughed, too, as Jeanie Jyanti Noonan regaled us with the memory of her dead grandmother arriving in the form of a lost dog to comfort her bereaved family. And we considered what our own funerals might look like, prompted by funeral event coordinator Louise O’Brien’s humourous and encouraging anecdotes from the front lines of her work.
‘Starting at the End’ partnered Good Day Cork with Irish Hospice Foundation to change the narrative on dying, death, and bereavement. After two hours of storytelling, talking with our neighbours, and making art about it, we all left not downhearted but lifted. Not grief-stricken but relieved. Not morbid but life affirmed.
Research shows that most of us—60% even—find enough bereavement support from our friends and family following the death of someone we love. But another 30% of us benefit from additional community-based supports, not necessarily therapy. By coming together to be supported with others who understand, through talk but also through other outlets. In doing this, we can help one another to ‘weave’ these experiences into the story of our lives.
Creative expression has always been my go-to meditative practice, and research backs up the physiological importance of sitting down and making marks on paper, including reduced anxiety and lower heart rates. ‘Arting,’ as we called it sitting there together at Cork Main Library that sunny Saturday morning, gives us space to express feeling without needing to turn to words first. Participants had the option to choose to be quiet with their arting or to share in conversation and craft with their neighbours, but we all did so sitting at the same table together. The result was a morning of meaning-making, joy, and brightened eyes.
After two hours of storytelling, talking with our neighbours, and making art about it, we all left not downhearted but lifted. Not grief-stricken but relieved. Not morbid but life affirmed
What we know now is that there is an appetite for these types of conversations and these spaces. We want to come together to talk and share in our personal and collective grief. We want the opportunity for creative expression. We want more of this. And I think, with the seeds planted in just two hours, that we can create the community spaces for these stories and connections to grow.
About Valerie Smith
Valerie Smith (she/her) works with Irish Hospice Foundation as Public Engagement Lead. The Bereavement Support Line is 1800 80 70 77. Valerie is also a queer, interfaith reverend and death midwife, a community trauma relief facilitator, and an artist. California born but dwelling in Cork, no, she does not miss the weather (nor the fires), but she does miss the constant intermingling of languages and cultures.