I have been thinking. This Summer has changed things in my little world. I finally faced up to the difficulties with my son, and saw how long things have been very, very bad. I saw wilful avoidance on my part. I hope there is a good ending to this story, but at the moment, I have no part in it, and do not, cannot, make things better. I am, I accept, powerless.
My brother Dominic agreed to be the last person to be painted and interviewed for the A Graceful Death exhibition, and with very mixed feelings, I have tried to start that painting. We have had one interview, and will have another soon, and I have been avoiding having to paint him. When I look at Dominic, I see myself. And, funnily enough, I see our other two brothers too, and Dom's face becomes a mixture of all of us, Ralph, John, Dominic and me. We are all there, when I look at Dom, and I am struck by my own mortality. Dominic is living with advanced cancer, and working hard to defeat it. He may well do so, we don't know. But as you all know, who have had any dealings with life limiting illness, everything changes forever. And of course, paradoxically,the same life goes on regardless, without a backward look.
It has been very difficult to know what to do recently. My head has been both full of worry and empty of solutions. I almost shut up the studio, put on a false moustache, changed my name to Miguel, and pretended to be someone else. That would have been easier than being here I thought, in Bognor, with a Studio I wasn't using, a mind that was full of sawdust and nonsense, with difficulties at home, and a growing sense of sadness with the world.
What this all boils down to, my dear friends, is that one part of my work is coming to an end, and another is beginning. I say this now, though even a week ago, it was not so clear. This kind of thing is seldom linear, logical and efficient and so I met first with a brick wall. In dealing with this brick wall, I found eventually, that there were ways round it, and that it wasn't as tough and final as it seemed at first. I spent much time sitting down and gazing stupidly at it, believing that it was as big and alarming as it looked, until ways to get up and tackle it began to present themselves. Things are much better now, and I believe I have made my decisions. Here they are.
- I will write the blog once a month, not once a week. This will keep you on a knife edge. What is happening in Bognor? you will say, and no one will know. You will have to wait for the beginning of every month to find out. This will be good for you. You will learn patience. And I will practice perseverance. That will be good for me. Win win.
- I will start my book. We all have a book in us, I have one that has struggled to find form for years, and with the working title "Sparkly Send Offs" I think I am onto a winner. It combines the end of life with being a fairy and this working title gives me immense joy. It is completely ridiculous, and we can thank my dear friend Sarah Weller, Sound Therapist extraordinaire, for coming up with it. Complete nonsense. Wonderful.
- The Conversations project is the way forward. I have been holding two hourly sessions in the community for anyone to come and talk about any part of the end of life that is on their mind. There is, as always, tea and cake, and a gentle and open forum for discussions on end of life matters. The last one held at the Salvation Army Community Hub this week, covered atheism, suffering, laughter, and euthanasia. The idea is so simple. "Finding time to think in our busy worlds" is the strap line on the posters.
- The A Graceful Death exhibition needs a permanent home. It is now time to set it up properly and permanently somewhere where it can be accessed by those that want to come and see it, respond to it, and meet the people who have left us their images and their words about how they are doing their dying. Or living. Some are still with us, some are not. The one thing they all have in common is that while we are painting and interviewing them, they are living and living with full intent. It's time that it was set up, all 52 paintings, the films, videos, the music, poetry and essays, all of it ready made so that it could be used to help us start to think of and believe, our own mortality. There will be no more paintings after Dom. If AGD now has a place to stay, for however long, it would work very well. I am open to ideas. Probably somewhere near me now, in Bognor, so that I can maintain it. It can still travel. I love the idea of having a van with the A Graceful Death logo on it, as it travels the length and breadth of the country, full of paintings of dead and dying people, being avoided on the motorways as people would do anything rather than follow behind, overtake or have anything to do with a van full of things about dying.
- Dominic's portrait is the last painting that I will do for A Graceful Death. I will be finishing this part of the project with a beautiful painting of my youngest brother. There is talk of making a small film of Dom as a finale to the creative and expressive work that has been the A Graceful Death exhibition and project. I hope that we do this, Dominic's experience and his ways of keeping himself going, are very valuable for when we may need such advice. We all will need some preparation. We are all one day, going to be finding ways to try to die well.
Saturday September 27th () £10 I'll be doing a pop up talk at about midday here
& Sunday September 28th () £5 I'll be in the church with AGD here.
in a time of TRANSITION
EVENTBRITE via www.ascentascot.org
Alongside the exhibition we will also be presenting a programme of talks and workshops, together with evening performances of the funny and moving play, “Colder Than Here”, written by award winning playwright, Laura Wade, as well as an opening musical concert on the Thursday evening.
There will also be a number of exhibition stands relating to the theme of the event.
It is our intention, through The Elephant In The Room, to bring, what is often a taboo subject, out into the open, stimulating awareness and encouraging discussion around the subject of death and dying. Through the talks and workshops we plan to cover a range of areas, including end of life care and support, funeral planning, the approach to death in different cultures and faiths, planning and writing of Advance Decisions and Wills, being prepared, the options available at the end of life and awareness of choice, and much more. We will also have question and answer sessions with a panel of experts in their own related fields.
Apart from the theatre and musical performances, entrance to the exhibition and all talks and workshops will be free. Refreshments will be available throughout the days in exchange for donations.
The programme of talks will run from 12 noon until 4.30 pm on Friday 31st October and from 11.00 am until 4.30 pm on Saturday and Sunday November 1st & 2nd.
All the proceeds from the event are going to fund the work of The Centre in Swansea, in providing free complementary therapy treatments and support to those living with cancer and other life-limiting conditions, and also to support Antonia Rolls and her “Graceful Death” work.