Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Time To Pack Away Till Next Time

http://www.antoniarolls.co.uk/ for my website
http://www.antoniarolls.blogspot.com/ for my blog on being an Artist and Mother in West Sussex
antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me

Dancing Steve Out Of Life

Time To Pack Away Till Next Time

I am drawing to the end of the first A Graceful Death exhibitions. It has been two years of thought and work, and I am glad. I am glad that it has been shown and that there has been such a response to it. I am glad that I have been able to show what began as my story, and seems to be most other peoples' story too. It is also good that the paintings exist. I can't imagine how I would have coped if I had not done them. Or if I had not the gift of painting to use to work throughout this experience.

I am sad too, because there was some opposition to the show, which makes me think it is even more important to do it. Important though it is to hear and accept how some people may not like what this exhibition is about, the amount of support and encouragement I have received from all sorts of places is very heartening. Many professional groups in the palliative care and end of life initiatives are interested in using the exhibition. Bereavement training organisations are interested and interestingly enough, some churches have expressed a desire to use the exhibition during the training of ministers. The images are being shown in a theological college in the Midlands over Lent and Easter in 2010.

Here are some more comments from the exhibition that is just finishing now. It needs to be said that individual images out of the context of the exhibition as a whole just do not give the same feeling of peace and strength and power that walking around the exhibition when it is set up, can do. Each painting has a description and an explanation. There is much love and hope in A Graceful Death.

"Extremely moving, extremely honest. This show must be seen by many people. Death and cancer are with us. It's unpleasant and frightening but this series of paintings helps us deal with those emotions in a positive and wholly honest way."

"I think this exhbition is brave and courageous and I hope that it becomes the first step to many other projects which will raise awareness of issues surrounding end-of-life care. I admire you, Antonia, and all you do. Thank you!"

These kind comments come from two people who have lost a parent each within the last two years.

This has been an unusual journey. It has shown me that we want to have a conversation about dying. It has shown me that grief, bereavement and loss are part of our world and should be accepted and understood as normal by everyone, as naturally as marriage, birth, redundancy, as natural and acceptable as a birthday party, by us. I don't expect us all to understand the depth or pain involved, but to accept that it is normal, and to let it happen. Give it time, give it its rightful place as a part of every single person's life on this earth. And death itself, gosh. That takes so many forms. It leaves us, the living, with sometimes insurmountable problems with carrying on. This is where as a society, we need to know that this will happen, that we will either experience or witness others experience, profound grief and what seems to be, madness.

This "A Graceful Death " is coming to London in February. I will keep you informed of where and when. I hope to see you all there.

Steve well and happy. "I Am Not Going Anywhere" is what he used to say. But he did.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Some Responses To The Exhibition

http://www.antoniarolls.co.uk/ for my website
http://www.antoniarolls.blogspot.com/ for my blog on being an Artist and Mother in West Sussex
antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me for the exhibition venue.

Responses To The Exhibition

There have been a steady trickle of people coming and taking in the paintings, the words and the atmosphere of the A Graceful Death Exhibition. I have sat and watched people pass silently from painting to painting, thinking and observing and often remembering their own story. I have drunk so much tea this past week, sitting and talking to the visitors, and I am more aware than ever that People Are Fascinating. We have covered topics such as Death, Bereavement, Religion, Re-incarnation, Euthanasia, God and more. I even had two elderly ex world war two fighter pilots to visit, with all the stories of their lives and experiences.

A couple of the comments are below, and they represent the general feeling of the experience so far -

"A very powerful exhibition. As a cancer traveller I find this hugely emotional, challenging and reassuring. As Christian ministeers we feel this is tremendously important - a good, graceful death is what we should aim for"

"An exhibition that should be seen by eveyone - it has a message - a healing stlry which will resonate with everyone who has experienced a loss and separation. Brilliantly moving!!"

I am posting a few photos below to show you what it looks like.

The first photo shows the images against the wall. The second is an image of Steve sitting beautiful and brave, on his chair waiting to die, with text behind about how hard it was for him and for me. The third is called "Goodbye Michael, Goodbye Old Friend" which is what my father is bending over his old friend of nearly 50 years and saying. This was the last time my father saw Michael, who died a few hours later. My father, despite having had some pretty bad strokes and not always finding remembering things very easy, came on the train weekly from London to sit with Michael here in Bognor. This was an intensely personal moment, and it was very hard for my father to have to leave to catch his train.

I am expecting some more people today, and will carry on with the tea drinking and the listening and talking.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

It Is Going Well! Wow. So Much To Talk About

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antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me for the venue address and any comments you may wish to make

So Much To Talk About

The radio interview went very well. Here is a link to it posted by Alan

"You can hear this morning's great interview by Antonia on A Graceful Death on http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p005cjbp/Gavin_Ashenden_06_12_2009/

Then move the line under the interviewers picture til the time shows 2.39.21 ( its a three hour programme and she is on just before the end, so don't listen to it all!)"

The Exhibition is going well. I have had some very caring and interesting people in to see the paintings and to talk. It seems we all do want to talk, and to discuss things of real importance to us. This exhibition enables the conversation to begin on Death, Dying, and now Religion and our own beliefs. It is very good indeed to engage with these people.

There is talk of the paintings being helpful for Church Ministers in training and for Bereavement Counsellors in training. I am glad and if it comes about, then good.

I have to be very quick as I am due to open the doors in a minute. Today I will take some photos and put them up, and you can all see how good it all looks.

Steve is really making people talk. Not argue or fight, but just talk. This is good, he didn't like to fight. He was a good and peaceful man.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Today We Start

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We are all ready. The paintings look good and the atmosphere is good. I will post pictures later to show the exhibition.
The radio interview went very well yesterday, and I am very heartened by the response. Thank you all. I loved talking about the A Graceful Death, and it was good to have an interviewer who had really understood what I was doing and what it meant to do this.
Come and see this week. As it is being held in my home I feel it best you email for the address.
Here is the better picture of Steve well, Eileen Rafferty took it so it is very much better than my effort a few days ago.

Friday, 4 December 2009

A Quiet Day. Thinking Of Next Week

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antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me

I am very quiet today. I finished the poems by Maddy and A Pook that had to be painted onto wood, and they look dignified and good. The large Christ Head (not sure if that is the correct title) is mostly done but needs some touches in gold on the dark blue. It needs to dry a bit before I can do that, this blue takes time and has a life of its own. The head is very beautiful and very striking. Maybe because it is so much bigger than life size, and any head bigger than life size is unnerving. The gold on the halo is lovely though.

The wine for the Opening Night is bought. The people to help are sorted. There is not much else to do. Except of course to paint. I could go next door (my studio has an office attached and this is where I do all my computer and PR work) to the studio, smelling as it does of white spirit and oils, and paint another image to go into the exhibition. I had thought of something along the lines of "The Final Angel" and it is working quietly in my mind so that I can make something of it.

The exhibition is about the final journey to the end of life. It is based on my experience. It has not been easy to paint, but so worth while. I am proud of the paintings. I am proud that I have done what was so hard to do, and to have begun a debate that, it seems, is rumbling below the surface of most peoples' lives. Those who dedicate their lives to Palliative care and End of Life care, have so much to offer us. Death will happen to us all, you will die and I will die. That is when those who are called to work in this area are ready to help. This is why I asked for you to donate to the two hospices that are supporting me. St Barnabas House Hospice danced Steve out of his life. St Wilfrids Hospice is the local hospice in this area and have lent me the most wonderful cd of an interview with one of their patients, describing how afraid he was when he came into the hospice. He called the nurses and carers Practice Angels. And how now he is not afraid, but so peaceful. This man has since died, and it is very brave and kind of his partner to allow the interview to be heard in my exhibition.

Some people are extremely uncomfortable with these paintings, and others have been inspired. My friends include journalists and writers and there is much to debate and discuss with the paintings of a real person as they end their life, with the dignity and peace and wonder that has no explanation. One of my writer friends is keen to write about the process of approaching death for her newspaper, and that is what I want to see happen. Discussion, talk, conversation, debate, opinions. I have had huge experiences with the loss of Steve, with the painting of the pictures, and the reactions to them. I wouldn't have done it differently even if I had had the opportunity. What I have learned has been invaluable and life affirming. So even though I am quiet today, I am happy.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Loneliness Triptych. Or Where Did You Go.

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antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com to email me

Loneliness Triptych (Where Did You Go)

This is part of the exhibition. It is quite universal, I think. The blue slippers are all that are left, ridiculously familiar and hopelessly poignant too.

Exhibition opens from 10am to 4pm daily from Monday 7 December to Sunday 13 December.

Email me on antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com for details.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Life Goes On

http://www.antoniarolls.blogspot.com/ for life as an Artist and Mother

I suppose that is the theme of my work. That Life Goes On. Here is Steve well and happy. The photo is not very good, and when my photographer comes back with the good photo I shall put it up on the blog. Steve wears his blue slippers here, which appear in three other paintings. I wonder what happened to them. The writing at the top of this painting says "I am not going anywhere" which is what he kept saying. Sad, because he did go somewhere. Where exactly, would take a whole lifetime of discussion.

Today I want to say that sometimes, the oddest things make us sit up and take stock of ourselves. Here I am, having had the experience of loving a good man, and taking the journey to the end of his life with him. There I stopped, and he went on. There was never a cross word between us, and he posed happily for the photos I took of him as he declined. Further along the line, I have painted a whole exhibition of powerful and raw images of him as he was at the end of his life. All the time I was painting, I felt keenly aware that I was still living, and what was this thing called death that had happened to Steve? It was as if every time I started a new painting, I tried to get closer to an answer. I don't think this will ever happen, but I needed to try.

When I took the paintings to the Hospices, when I took them to other significant people, when those in religious organisations saw them, I was surprised at their reactions. It seemed that these paintings were a spring board for a discussion on how we die and what we all as a society do about it. Visitors to my studio ask to see the works and instead of being horrified, said Oh, That Happened To Me Too. Even a newspaper photographer who took some photos said That Was Like My Grandfather. It seems we all carry around an experience inside, of the loss of someone close. I get so many requests to see the paintings, even in my studio.

So I began to raise money for the Hospices through my publicity about the A Graceful Death Exhibition. Cheques come in here, and I send them off. I am asked about the two Hospices that I was working with, and I am glad to give as much information as possible. I have made some good contacts at St Barnabas House and St Wilfrids. We all understood the power of the paintings and the fact that they could touch so many who needed to talk and tell us their story.

The Quakers too were full of understanding; they have a sound and realistic attitude to death and dying and were pleased to offer their Meeting House to host what was, and is, an important exhibition. I have alerted hundreds of people, there are so many coming, that I am sure there is much to talk about here - why are they coming and what will they say? It will be a kind exhibition, and if people become upset about their own stories, then we can understand and give them a cup of tea and take time with them.

Finally, though the exhibition venue has changed, and email me if you would like to come on antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com , I am ready for the paintings to be seen. They are being hung right now, and there is a rota of assistants to welcome in the visitors. I will be in charge of tea, because we all know that I love my tea. My friends, my family, my clients, those who have shown an interest in the subject of How We Die, all of these people will come and some will love the experience, some will not. And so we come back to the oddest things that make us sit up and take notice. I am back in control of my exhibition. Not everyone will like what I do, even apart from this A Graceful Death. There is a kind of relief that I am back in control, it is really time to move on.

Dancing Steve Out Of Life

Email me if you are interested in coming to the exhibition on antonia.rolls1@btinternet.com and I will send you details.