Eileen and I are beginning the process of arranging everything so that we can open with a proper Opening Night on the 25 March. During our time in St James's we will have poetry workshops by Penny Hewlett and possibly, if all goes well, related talks on end of life issues. There will be the book that Eileen has created of her photos of the paintings and of some of the exhibitions; this book will be for sale and the proceeds will go to the AGD fund for future exhibitions. We are showing the paintings in the gallery of the church, upstairs, and we have (as ever) much to do.
Much has been happening with this exhibition. There are plans to expand the way we show the paintings and the poetry. There is interest in showing A Graceful Death alongside training events taking place around the country on end of life issues. I am talking to various people about exhibiting in conferences and related events, giving an artistic approach to death and dying through the paintings, and helping those taking part in such training events to feel responses and to acknowledge and respect their own experiences of death and dying. The exhibition offers a profound emotional, personal and visual response to dying and the end of life, which works well with words and teaching. Penny Hewlett, our AGD poet, has helped to create some very strong poetry on aspects of death, dying and bereavement, from those who take part in her poetry workshops. This will help people to release some of their emotions through creativity.
I am hoping too, to have Felicity Warner come and talk at the St James's exhibition. Felicity is the founder of the Soul Midwife Foundation and is full of experience and understanding on what it means to die. Felicity's books are "Gentle Dying, A Simple Guide To Achieving A Peaceful Death", and "A Safe Journey Home". She is wonderful and inspiring to listen to, and makes so much sense. Felicity is very busy, and will come if she can, so here is hoping that it is possible.
As well as taking the exhibition to events and training programmes that have already been set up, I would love to create my own training and lecture programmes to show alongside and as a part of A Graceful Death. I have now met some very experienced and inspiring people who should be heard. They work on the front line with people in nursing homes, they own and run funeral companies, they work in hospices, they give spiritual support to the dying - it would be excellent and inspirational to have these people and more, to talk of their experiences and to teach us what it is like to do as they do. I finish this year in Sheffield in November, at the University. There, the paintings will be shown alongside seminars, talks, debates and lectures arranged by the University from the faculties of Medicine, Religion, Philosophy, English, for both the university and the public. I am very much looking forward to that too. I hope that Sheffield may show me how it can be done so that I can arrange my own lectures, talks and debates alongside the paintings. Very exciting!
And the paintings? I am preparing to paint Sarah Crawcour at the moment, who hates the word Survivor, and for that reason, she is not one. Sarah is an interesting lady to join the exhibition as she has three reasons to tell us her story. Sarah lost her partner a few years ago, and would not go to be with him as he died. She absolutely did not want to go and felt that she was not needed. Very good. How many of us have felt the same? We don't all want to be by the bedside as someone dies, we may very well run a mile. Sarah presents another approach. She is in recovery from breast cancer, and has very strong views on the jolly upbeat approach of breast cancer support which she thinks is not a jolly subject at all. It makes her angry and feel undermined. And Sarah has recently been operated on as her cancer returned and is now successfully through that unpleasant experience. Sarah is only 51 years old, full of energy and life. Her portrait and story will be very good for A Graceful Death because she did not do what everyone expects that they will do.
I keep my hospice work very separate from the exhibition work, but my goodness there are some glorious people in there. They could really tell us a thing or two about approaching death, and what it means to them. And as they become more ill, they have a fragile beauty that is painful at times. It highlights the miracle of life, it seems that they cannot support life in such a brittle body but they can and do. That is where I feel awe about the magic of life.
More on the exhibition, the paintings, and progress soon. It is all go here in Bognor where I live, onwards and upwards as we say.