How do we talk about death?

How do we talk about death?



Yesterday I told you about the forthcoming exhibition in Birmingham ( Saying the Unsayable).

Here is some backgroung to the piece of work taken from the Introduction to the programme guide written by Pauline Smith

Saying the unsayable:

                                    Opening a dialogue about living, dying and death

                        The Exhibition guide




A piece of work like this has many parts and contributors, all vitally important, adding up to and together forming the place we have reached at this point in time. I have been enormously privileged to have had the opportunity to both lead this piece of work to the exhibition we have here and to choose and work with the contributors.   

There are many people to thank for their part in this innovative and exciting piece of work. Firstly to those who were with me at the outset and at the heart of generating the idea for the work. I give my heartfelt thanks to them for their inspiration, ideas and passion and our times together on this piece of work. These were my very special friends and work colleagues Melanie Young now Senior Commissioning Manager at Birmingham North and East Primary Care Trust, who at the time was Network Manager of the Pan Birmingham End of Life Care Network and Reverend Canon Dr. James Woodward now at St. George’s Chapel Windsor, who until recently was Director of the Leveson Centre for Ageing, Social Policy and Spirituality, and Master of the Foundation of Lady Katherine Leveson in Temple Balsall. Melanie in her network role had initiated the public awareness campaign ‘Living well until the end of life’. James and I, as supporters of this campaign, were keen to generate other campaign activities to facilitate and allow the public to become so much more familiar with and comfortable about aspects of dying and death in our lives. The idea for this work and exhibition was ‘dreamed up’ at the Ikon Gallery Café, around the corner here from Centenary Square, over a delicious meal and lots of good red wine!        

and here is a little more about the aims and aspirations  of the project          


      Welcome to the Exhibition and what we hope you will get out of it

We welcome you to this art exhibition ‘Saying the unsayable: opening a dialogue about living, dying and death’.  


Why the title? Well we recognise that in the 21st century we have become increasingly unfamiliar with many aspects of dying and death. There are a variety of reasons for this. These include

  • the welcome and enormous advances in medicine and technology, so we are living much longer
  • our changing lifestyles and the changing structures of and places where we find our intimate and social networks.  The ‘neighbourly care system’ is disappearing    


So we have a greater focus on survival and the expectations that go with this – ignoring dying and death. This has meant that dying and death has increasingly become the territory of medicine and care systems. Equally we live a commodities based existence where individuality is highly valued. This can sometimes lead to living in more fragmented and isolated ways.


I wonder how many of you have experienced a death of someone close to you. It is now not unusual to reach the age of 50 or so before we are witness to such an experience or even to be in the presence of a dead body. 


This unfamiliarity with the features of dying in the 21st century is sharpened by the need to reshape some of our rituals to guide our behaviours at such times. We increasingly need to find a language, a form of words and shared ways of knowing for how to bring up the subject of dying and death and dialogue with others on the subject.  How then do we find ways to talk to one another close to us or with those around us? – as we do all still die!


We hope to offer and provide a possible entry point to such discussions by using some art forms –  firstly the image as a way in to form your own stories about what the image might trigger or say to you, and secondly the use of newly constructed ceremonies to use in our every day lives at these times . How exciting! See the Centre pages for what is on offer here at the exhibition.

While you are here at the exhibition we suggest you hold a range of questions:

  • what does living with dying and death mean to me?
  • which images mean or connect to me the most?
  • what words would I use or what stories would I tell to share any meaning of those images to those around me or later to my family and friends?

I am going to be sharing some of the images with you through my blog and encouraging to to think, talk and respond.


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