Thursday 12 July 2012

New Blog Up And Running

I couldn't wait for the website to be ready, I have created the new blog today and this is up and running.  There will be work news in the next posting, this first posting was a reflection of today.  A true reflection of an artist at home!  Follow me on this one and I very much look forward to seeing you there  Much love to you all

Thursday 28 June 2012

A Graceful Death has been the best thing that I have ever done (apart from having my children).  It has opened my eyes, it has opened my heart and it has made me look into what I take for granted in my life.  I have lost a belief in the Divine, and found it again.  A part of me died and because of that, a new path became clear.  I have found the way I want to go and the kind of work that I want to do.  And so the part of me that died, perhaps, had to go anyway.  Something new was born, and that is the work I do with end of life issues both as a painter and artist, and as a Soul Midwife.

This blog has been so important in the journey I have taken with A Graceful Death so far.  I have logged onto it all my news and thoughts, and have put up the paintings as I have been doing them, since 2009 when I held my first exhibition in my house.  I have used it to express myself and I have used it to inform you all of what I am doing and when.

Very soon, I will be using a new website which will incorporate all the work I do.  Linked to this new website will be a new blog where I will post all my news and paintings and events.  Some of you may have followed the other blog that I write, where I tell of my life and times as and Artist and Mother in Bognor Regis.  I want to combine both blogs and to write only one.  In this new blog I will put all my news, my A Graceful Death news, my Soul Midwife news, my other artistic news (for example, I have just finished illustrating a new book on the life of Jesus, due for publication in July next month.  Totally different work from the end of life work, and just as wonderful).  I will tell you all of the exhibitions as they come up, and the things that I am doing that you may be interested in visiting.  I will also tell you of the amazing people that come into my world and go out again, and the amazing people that are stuck with me (eg my children.  All grown up but still astonishingly unregulated.)  I will tell you about the discussions I have with people who inspire me, like last night talking with my dear friend and writer (and eccentric) Olivia Fane.  She told me of her thought crimes and went over what she was going to say at a literary festival next month.  She told me of the Ego and the I, and how she began to write her books and plan them after a strange event during the night in her house in Cambridge (something nasty in the woodshed etc).  And then I shall tell you about the meetings I will have with my Soul Midwife friends in Brighton tomorrow, and what we shall come up with to make our work better.

Lastly I will write about how my friend will come on Sunday to my studio, to make a Life Board with photos, material, paper, feathers, beads, words, poems and so on.  We will create her story on a piece of wood, onto which she will stick the things, images, words and thoughts that best describe who she is today after having been through the loss of the love of her life.  I know this is a very good thing, I have done them for myself, and they speak volumes in ways we could not imagine.  She, my friend, is recently widowed and is oh so very sad.  More sad than anything ever in her world.  Eileen, my dear photographer and colleague and friend will come too and photograph the event.  If this is helpful and good, which I think it will be, I will offer this as a workshop for A Graceful Death alongside the poetry workshops run by my friend and poet Penny Hewlett.

So much to say, so much to write, so much to do.  Life is good, when it isn't being bad.

Bear with me.  When my new website is ready (it is being designed and created by Neill Blume who made the film of AGD) I will launch it with a teeny fan fare. I will post on here the address and from the new website, you will be able to see the new blog link.  And then you can follow me to the ends of the earth.  We shall have fun.

Thank you!  See you soon.  Antonia.

Friday 11 May 2012

AGD goes to Notts County Football Ground

Here is the next A Graceful Death event.  I have never exhibited in a football club before.

Dying Matters-
Small Actions: Big Difference

Tuesday 29th May 2012

Notts County Football Ground

This is a one day event with various speakers, on end of life matters.  I will be showing the exhibition and talking about it with a life celebrant, Richard Sanders-White, soul midwife Felicity Warner and Dr Adrian Blundell, who will be speaking on planning for the end of life.  I am very lucky indeed to be staying with a very passionate and dedicated soul midwife, Sam Reynolds, an expert in the elderly end of life care.

For more information, please contact

Another posting on news and updates very soon. 

Wednesday 11 April 2012

The Day After.

Well.  The exhibition is finished for this time, and all is packed up and in my studio again.  We had a very loving closing prayer and blessing from Lucy Winkett, Rector at St James's Piccadilly, and it felt that the exhibition breathed a sigh of relief and began to get itself ready for dismantling.

How was it?  How was the two weeks in a central London location, in a fabulous old listed church with a philosophy of "All Welcome, end of story"?  Well, it was fabulous.  I am spending today back at home in my pyjamas following the sun as it shines in different rooms of the house, and forcing myself to do nothing so the experience can begin to settle in my mind.  Here though, are a few thoughts.  I will write about the exhibition itself later when I am rested.  In the meantime -

St James's in Piccadilly opened itself to me and let me in.  I was given a key, given the gallery and given all the time and space I needed to set up.  The people who work in the church took me and the exhibition in their stride and nothing was too much trouble for them;  I was made to feel welcome, I was made to feel as if the exhibition was important, I was treated with such generosity and courtesy that I could not but enjoy every moment in the church. 

I think that as I sat upstairs in the gallery with my paintings and all the A Graceful Death stuff, I saw how important people are to each other.  I think I saw how, if the leadership of an organisation is good, that organisation tends to be good.  Sitting up in the gallery, the church would fill with the sound of tramps snoring.  People would wander around, the traffic outside would ebb and flow, and the tramps would snore as if they were competing with each other to take the roof off.  And then suddenly an orchestra would arrive.  After a few minutes, they would play Mozart and continue to practice until the lunchtime concert.  Up in the gallery, I could only see what happened in the church below if I went and looked.  So then the Mozart would stop and after a little while, the snoring would resume and I would watch people come and go in the exhibition.  And then, someone would play the piano.  Once, two serious and intense young men came and practiced the most disjointed but clever piece of classical music for a concert, filling the whole place with a passionate and deeply intellectual recital of something beyond my understanding.  After they left, after the concert, in the silence, the snoring started up again.

Yesterday afternoon, as the exhibition was winding down and people were gathering amongst the paintings for a last rather party like look and chat, a lady somewhere in the church below started to sing Ave Maria.  Everyone stopped and looked heavenwards, it was so beautiful, it was so appropriate, and I longed to say Yes, I organised this for the exhibition, it is all my doing. But of course it wasn't.  It was a wedding practice below, and I knew that, but I could see the effect it was having on the people in the exhibition and I loved it.  By the end of two weeks in St James's, I was becoming accostomed to sudden bursts of fabulous music, and was beginning to take it all in my stride.  Like the time, at the beginning of my stay at St James's, lots of young people arrived and started milling around the altar.  A tour, I thought.  A tour of well meaning but bored teenagers.  Suddenly one of them started to sing, and all of them joined in, and lo.  Not a group of tourists, but a travelling Venezualan choir rehearsing.  Blimey, I thought, I wonder if they are meant to be doing that, before one of the excellent Vergers explained that it was all OK and they were booked to do a concert that day in St James's.  And indeed, the next time I saw them they were in black tie and evening gowns with pearls.

That the organisation was good showed itself in the kindness and thoroughness of the people who worked there.  All seemed to have a very quiet pride in not just their work, but in the church.  Anyone can come in here and sleep, I was told.  Anyone.  During a service they have to sit up, but after they can go back to sleep.  Merchant Bankers can come and sleep if they want but as it happens, tramps and the homeless are the ones who take advantage of it. Hence the snoring.  There is a crisis caravan outside available for anyone who needs advice and counselling.  It is true, it is an old fashioned caravan parked outside in the courtyard, and you get time and referrals and advice for free there, and anyone can go.  There is much the church does and I don't really know any of it, but what snippets I heard from the staff and those who came to the exhibition as members of the church, made me think that there is a kind of fierce determination from the top down, to do what is needed for one human to another, to put their money where their mouth is, and to shine a light, the brightest light that they can, and to do it simply because they can and will.  And to shine it in the darkest corners as a matter of urgency. 

I met a wonderful man from the Alternatives organisation, part of St James's.  He explained how the church encouraged free thinking, exploration, discussion and all sorts of alternative paths to spirituality and God through workshops, through speakers, through weekend workshops running constantly throughout the year and very much a part of St James's.

Finally, I met a lady, a wonderful fiercely intelligent brightly coloured lady, who is on the Parish Council and speaks many languages and told me she had a problem with authority;  this lady said that this church was run with such creativity and intelligence, such passion and insight, that she had found her faith again after a period of having lost her way.  She puts the leadership and the passion and the creativity down to the Rector, Lucy Winkett, and says that without her deep intelligence, commitment and leadership, none of this would be possible.  Lucy, said this amazing lady, brought creativity back to St James's.

And now I am home, having been accepted into this church for the last two weeks, after they gave me a platform -asking absolutely nothing in return - to show my exhibition.  I am thankful, I am affected by them, and when I can decide what to do to say thank you to them, I will do it.  So until I know what I will do, I will say thank you here.  Thank You St James's, thank you.

Saturday 7 April 2012

Closing Prayer with Lucy Winkett

Tuesday 10 April, at 3pm.  

I am so glad to have Lucy to say a closing prayer for us,

 to bless and thank all those who have visited and all those who have taken part, in A Graceful Death.

And to bless and pray for all those who are on this journey themselves.

All welcome, up in the gallery with the paintings.

Today, the exhibition was visited by many people, one of whom said that I should take it to the Houses of Parliament and then Strazburg.  She then said that it would be too much for her to come in to actually see the exhibition, she needed time as her experiences were so raw.  Her enthusiastic response was based on the written stuff I have displayed on the staircase on the way up to the exhibition.  She promised to come back for the closing prayer.  I look forward to welcoming her.

See you all on Tuesday.

Thursday 5 April 2012

Opening Hours for the next few days -

Thursday 5 April                      midday – 5pm

Friday 6 April Good Friday    9am – 11.30 am

Saturday 7 April                      10am -  5pm

Sunday 8 April Easter Day      12.30pm – 5pm

Monday 9 April Bank Holiday, church and exhibition closed

Tuesday 10 April                       10am – 1pm & 2pm – 5pm

Closing Prayer to end exhibition 3pm in the gallery amongst the paintings Tuesday 10 April

I have met some amazing people at St James's.  I sit there amongst the paintings every day, and watch people come and go.  Some come in, climbing the stairs to the gallery, hesitate at the door and turn and run away.  Some come in and spend time looking and I can see them thinking hard.  Others come in and glance at the paintings, read what they can quickly and leave without making eye contact and some come to speak to me and tell me what is going on in their lives.

Yesterday a smart man in a suit told me he was 75 years old.  He said, he was happy enough, he was retired and had never married nor had children.  His father died when he was 16 and he said, after that, he saw no reason to be optimistic about anything.  His own life, he said, had been run of the mill, he had no ambition and didn't see the point in doing anything really, he never regained his optimism and still missed his father.  He gave me a hug and left the exhibition.  This man had a lovely gentle smile, and I don't believe his life was run of the mill.  He just didn't feel that forgettable.

Another man dropped in yesterday, struggling up the stairs with his walking stick.  A few minutes before he got to the door a small boy walked into the exhibition, and made his way along the paintings, silently and with great confidence.   A few minutes later, an anxious old man with a walking stick appeared at the door.  I asked if a small boy with lovely aubern hair belonged to him, and he beathed a sigh of relief.  His grandson, he said, and he kept losing him because he couldn't move very fast.  He is fine here, I said, because the grandson was skipping about the pews in the gallery and had found some toy animals that were part of a small tribute to a young man called David.  The old fellow rested on his stick and started to tell me that when he was six, like his grandson, he had been evacuated.  He told me the story of his evacuation, and how he had recently been back to visit the village in the country where he had ended up.  He was a real East Ender, he said, London was all he had ever known, it was a real shock and adventure at six years old.  After a while, Grandad went to sit quietly in the pews in the gallery.  Soon, the little fellow made it clear that he was finished, and it was time to go on to the next adventure. On his way out, Grandad made a donation to the exhibition.  He had not looked at a single painting, nor do I think he even knew what it was about.  It is very nice, he said as he left, to meet nice people.  It is good, he said, to have someone listen.

The closing prayer for the exhibition is on Tuesday 10 April at 3pm.  We will bless and thank all those involved in visiting, supporting, taking part in, the A Graceful Death exhibition and experience.

Monday 2 April 2012

Today, Snowy the Cat is the Star.

Don't forget -
 Tuesday 4 April Poetry Workshop with Penny Hewlett,
 "Face to Face with Loss", up in the gallery of St James's Church Piccadilly, amonsgst the A Graceful Death paintings.

Today, Snowy The Cat is the Star.

I am sitting in St James’s in Piccadilly as I write this.  I thought an update while it is happening would be very on the ball, so here it is.

A Graceful Death is exhibiting in St James’s Church in Piccadilly, in the wonderful old wooden gallery up some stairs, overlooking the main church below.  Sitting in the pews and looking up to your right, will give you a small surprise as you will see some paintings of those nearing the end of life looking down at you from above.  There have been quite a few startled visitors to the exhibition wanting to know what was going on up here, having been a little surprised while quietly saying their prayers in the main church below and glancing, as one does, to the right towards the beautiful Wren windows, and seeing a painting of Steve looking down at them, as he sat so ill in the hospice a few days before he died.

I have just met a most interesting lady.  She came up the stairs to the exhibition with two friends, both of whom left very quickly.  This lady came into the exhibition with purpose, and having looked at most of the paintings, spent a long time at the far end of the gallery.  From time to time this lady wiped her eyes with a large, white hanky, and I wondered what painting had moved her so.  She was old, very thin, with long hair tied into a pony tail.  She seemed self-contained and a little eccentric.  When she eventually came to say something to me, I was not expecting her to have cried so much over the picture of Snowy the Cat. Snowy the Cat was added to the A Graceful Death exhibition at the request of the poet Rosie Miles;  Snowy is a much loved and often missed cat.  Well, the memories that Snowy the Cat prompted, are as follows:

A while ago, my long thin lady had been diagnosed with an aggressive and fearful cancer and had had to undergo emergency surgery and intensive chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  It was chaotic, and it was a miracle that she did not die.  However, she said that during her treatment, amongst other things, her memory seemed to have been utterly wiped clean, her ability to do even the smallest thing was incredibly hard. Her therapist however, (she used the word therapist and so I shall too) had a cat.  This cat always sat on her bed, and she became very aware of it.  The cat became ill too, and my long thin lady was terribly concerned that it would not survive.  She had resisted going into a nursing home, it seems that she was being cared for privately and had the services of her therapist and the cat – one of her reasons for not wanting to move anywhere else was that she had devised for herself a diet that was incredibly restrictive, she was afraid no one would be able to keep up with it.  However, the cat in its illness, became a focus for her and she fed the cat – presumably with her therapist’s agreement - her own special diet.  The cat, she said, was very appreciative.  As this lady slowly recovered, she was able to cat sit for her therapist.  The cat, said the therapist, was still very ill, and would die soon.  My lady was not to be upset nor alarmed, but should care for it as best she could, when the therapist could not do so.  How, thought my lady, could she best care for the cat, when her own treatment had taken her memory away and made her so ill herself?  I would want to know everything that happened to my cat, she said, if it was my cat, in the care of someone else, and not likely to survive.  So she wrote a diary day by day, such that she could, in her jumbled state, of the cat and its movements and health.

The cat survived.  It did die, later on, when it was well and truly old. But while my long thin lady was dealing with her own cancer, her own ill health and the nightmare of treatments, she managed to focus on a cat that had its own illness, and to bring it through somehow.  And my long thin old lady survived too.  Her eyes are going now, she said, and her hearing, which explained why she was looking so intently and for such a long time at the painting of Snowy.  

With a lovely smile and a cheerful wave, she said goodbye and left.  Her parting words were that there is such a powerful link between the animal world and the human world, if we look for it.  She is delighted to have seen Snowy included in this exhibition, and it moved her to remember the way her therapist, by giving her the cat to care for, brought her through her own terrible battle with cancer.

So, today, Snowy is the Star.

Wednesday 28 March 2012

New Amended Opening Hours and Open Night at St James's

Due to events taking place inside the Church, these are the times that the exhibition will be opening

Thursday 29 March                   12.15pm – 5.00pm
Friday 30 March                       10am – 1pm & 2pm – 5pm
Saturday 31 March                  10am – 5pm
Sunday 1 April                           12.30 – approx 3pm
Monday 2 April                         10am – 1pm & 2pm – 5pm
Tuesday 3 April                        10am – 1pm & 2pm – 5pm
2pm – 4pm Poetry Workshop in exhibition space by Penny Hewlett, free, all welcome “Face to Face with Loss”
Wednesday 4 April                    10am – 1pm & 2pm – 5pm
Thursday 5 April                      10am – 5pm
Friday 6 April Good Friday    9am – 11.30 am to be confirmed
Saturday 7 April – 10am   5pm
Sunday 8 April Easter Day      12.30pm – 5pm
Monday 9 April Bank Holiday, church and exhibition closed
Tuesday 10 April                       10am – 1pm & 2pm – 5pm
Closing Prayer to end exhibition time to be confirmed

It was lovely to see all of you, meet all of you, at the opening last night.  Thank you so much for coming and what a pleasure to meet you all. 

The exhibition has been set up in the upstairs gallery of St James's Church.  I was helped greatly by friends and family to get everything up to Piccadilly from Bognor Regis and to put it all in place, so that it could be seen and read as clearly as possible.  As it is a very famous and historic listed building, my instructions for exhibiting the paintings - don't touch the walls!  Do not stick anything to anything and please, no blutack.  So, how to arrange the paintings.  We leant them against the walls, we put them on the pews, we bought little plate display stands - loads of them - from hardware shops, and put the laminated (less bendy after lamination) descriptions, stories and instructions in the smaller ones, the smaller paintings in the larger stands.  We arranged little potted plants in pretty containers and we put 5 vases of the most beautiful colourful flowers everywhere.  There is a good sized TV screen and earphones for the film and there are cushions in some of the pews for comfort.  And now, the exhibition looks wonderful, the church is such a special building and we are open to the public.

This is a short entry, I will add bits as I go along.  We were very happy to have Nushi Khan-Levy at the opening, looking much better than she did in the painting of her while she was undergoing chemo for her cancer.  Nushi has hair now, and is very slender and looking good.  It is still day by day for her, though she is clear, she has had cancer and is so far, out the other side.  Nushi became a bit of a walking talking piece of art, as people got to notice that she was the lady in the painting, only much better now. Nushi with her cancer is painted below.

Please do come and see the exhibition.  I am very heartened by the response so far, and have met many new people.  One thing that I did not expect and am delighted by, is that five Soul Midwives came along last night.  I had only had email contact with some of them, and was very happy to meet them at last.  There was a small Soul Midwives gathering till we packed up and locked up the church at the end of the evening.

See you all there.  Look forward to it.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

The New Painting for AGD, the Short Film by Neill Blume, and Penny Hewlett's Poetry Workshop.

The A Graceful Death Poetry Workshop  run by poet Penny Hewlett
 will run on Tuesday 3 April from 2 - 4pm
 Please come up to the exhibition space in the gallery.  The theme of the worshop will be "Face to Face With Loss". 
 The workshop is free.  All very welcome.

 Sarah Crawcour

I want to introduce you to Sarah, above, who I wrote about in the last blog entry.  Sarah has been treated twice successfully so far, for cancer.  She is very sure that she is only getting on with her life, and is not a Survivor.  Sarah does not like that term, it does not describe her.  Though I will describe her as a brave and interesting lady, who is not impressed by the pinkification, as she calls it, of breast cancer.  Sarah found the overwhelming pressure to be positive and to prettify her breast cancer with pink ribbons made her angry, and she did not want to take part in it.  It works for some people, it did not for Sarah, who was scared and worried and coping with chemo and radiation treatment.  Another reason to include Sarah in the AGD exhibition is that she did not want to go to her partner's bedside as he lay dying.  She knew it was not for her and she did not do it.  I like this, because many of us don't get to the bedside of our dying loved ones, even if we wanted to - and many of us wish we had.  And equally, many do not want to be at the bedside at the moment of death, even if they could.  It really doesn't matter, but we tend to believe we ought to be there.  It is more often that people die alone, without us, than with us in the room with them.  Sarah had done what she could, and had said her goodbyes, and knew her mind.  

Neill Blume has finished our short film describing what the exhibition is about, and how those who take part in it react.  I will put a link to it here, and hope that you will enjoy it.  I want to thank Neill who has made a very good film indeed, and all those who took part in it.

I hope to see you all at the exhibition which starts at St James's in Piccadilly on Tuesday 27 March at 10am.  The Open Evening is that evening, the 27 March, from 7 - 8.30pm.  

Monday 5 March 2012

St James's Piccadilly Update

A Graceful Death opens at the end of this month in St James's Piccadilly.  All is generally in order;  the paintings are done, the short film is done, the book is being done and the organisation is ongoing.

Organisation includes, for me at least, all the housekeeping arrangements from my domestic life.  As I am in London for the whole of the exhibition, plans have to be put in place to enable my 15 year old son to go to and from school here in Bognor Regis, and for him to eat.  Eating is what he does.  He is very tall and very thin and very hungry.  Plans need to be put in place for me to stay in London and to have easy access to the church, which is all done.  My dear friend and AGD supporter, Clarissa de Wend Fenton is putting me up, plus any friends and family that need to stay.  Clarissa is a saint and will go to Heaven. 

Exhibition News 

There are some adjustments to the times and openings for the exhibition.  As the paintings will be displayed in the gallery above the church, there will be times when the exhibition will have to close for an hour or so to allow a service to take place below.  There may be unavoidable random closures during the exhibition, which is perfectly reasonable in that St James's is a working church with a huge congregation.  I will list the ones that I know about so far, below
  • The Gallery and exhibition will close between 1 and 2 pm on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays
  • Thursday 29 March the exhibition will close for one hour in the morning to allow a memorial service to take place.  When I know which hour, I will post it here
  • The poetry workshops have had to change completely.  The only day that is possible for the church is Tuesday 3 April between 2 and 4pm.  Penny, our wonderful AGD poet will try her best to do this.   More later.
  • The Church, and the exhibition, will be closed on Monday 9 March, as it is a Bank Holiday. 
  • The exhibition will be open on Easter Day, usual hours of 12.30 - 5pm

I have finished the painting of Sarah Crawcour.  This is a lady I am very keen to have join the A Graceful Death exhibition; she has not only lost her partner in 2008, but has had cancer once, then twice, and now is in remission.  Sarah is in her late 40s, and is realistic and strong in her outlook on life.  I find her refreshing and positive.  I am not calling Sarah a Survivor, as she does not like that term, she feels it is not true.  She is in remission, is healthy and the cancer has gone, again, and she feels that she is not surviving anything.  Sarah hates the pinkification of breast cancer.  She does not think it is a jolly feminine thing, and was distressed and furious to have had it.  Sarah is a kind, straight talking lady, she is great fun and full of life, and she found the pinkness and the pressure to keep thinking positive overwhelming when she tried to talk about her cancer.  Sarah was scared, frightened, sick, worried, full of panic and felt that this was not always acceptable.  Of course, there are so many people who are sensitive and realistic about cancer and the way it makes those who have it feel, I think Sarah felt that those she spoke with tended to want her to join the pink ribbons, the pink teddies, the upbeat thinking, which she absolutely did not feel nor want.  I liked what Sarah said.  I liked her honesty.  I also liked very much that when Sarah knew her partner was dying, she did not want to go to his bedside.  Despite the fact that she wouldn't have made it in time to be with him as he died, she did not want to go and did not feel that either of them needed it.  I like this so much.  Not many of us are with those we care about when they die, so many of us don't make it.  Yet we feel that we should, we ought, to be there to dance them out of life.  Sarah is loving, and loyal, and was strong enough to say No, it was not what she wanted, and she wouldn't do it.  Sarah's partner died, and Sarah holds his memory with love and care, it did not matter that she was not there.

 Opening Evening is on Tuesday 27 March, 7 - 8.30Please come and take part.

The opening hours for the exhibition are - Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 5pm.  Sundays including Easter Sunday, 12.30 to 5pm.  I will be there every day except the afternoon of Thursday 5 April.

I will have much for you to do, see and take part in at the exhibition.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Saturday 11 February 2012


A Graceful Death started with me losing Steve.  I was forced to accompany him to his death out of the blue, there had never been anything like it in my life.  Steve had had cancer before, and was given the all clear, so we thought that the all clear meant Never Again, Banished and Over.  When a routine test showed worrying shadows on his liver, we simply did not believe it.  It is something else, we said to each other.  It is bound to be a simple thing and anyway, we have an all clear, nothing can harm us now.  When we were gently guided towards accepting it was cancer, we said No way!  to each other.  We can will this away, we said and we went on holiday.  During the holiday, Steve set about stopping the cancer with his mind, and I had such perfect faith in him, I let him get on with it.  Our appointment with the hospital when we got back was a terrible shock.  The cancer had grown, and there was only palliative care as an option.

Holding onto Steve as he got more and more ill, I had to learn that when someone is going to die, they are going to die.  I had to learn to let go and do the best I could for him without clinging onto his exhausted body and shouting NO!  I will make you better!  I had to step back and accept that the process was going to happen whatever I did or thought, and that was very hard.  Steve's death was very much his thing.  I had to learn to follow, and watch, and understand that all I could do was go so far, and put up with it.  I was told by a wonderful cousin, that I could only dance so far with him, he had to finish the dance alone.

The work I do now for AGD is about giving the end of life some meaning.  I paint people who are facing either their own deaths, or facing a life threatening illness.  It is not only about who is dying, but how they are dying.  Eileen Rafferty, the friend and photographer who works on AGD with me, and I are realising that the conversations we have around the paintings with new subjects and their families, are an essential part of the end product, the painting.  We have bought a camera and microphone, and Eileen intends to record the interviews that we always hold with the new sitter for AGD to show alongside the painting.  The paintings are good, they capture a visual moment, but the talking that goes on around the painting, is full of insights, thoughts, difficulties and for us who are not going through it, information. 

I have been training as a Soul Midwife, alongside my AGD work.  A Soul Midwife is an emotional and spiritual companion for the dying.  I am only a beginner, and I have much training to do.  As I expand my work with AGD I come into contact with more and more people who are facing their deaths and, of huge importance, I meet their families and carers.  This is where I apply whatever I know of Soul Midwifery and I realise that I know next to nothing, but, I am helped along so much by those who sit for the exhibition.  I do not accompany people as a Soul Midwife unless they request it, and it is not linked directly to AGD, but sometimes I am requested while working on a portrait, to help with the emotional and spiritual support. I will do anything that I can, and am often in awe of the power of the dying to cope with their condition.

Eileen and I have found that the most important part of what we do for AGD (and isn't this true of life itself?) is to listen.  Before I do a painting, Eileen and I interview the sitter.  It takes more than one interview, and this is where so much that is needed to be heard, is said.  This is where Eileen is going to record the words.  She has already recorded Stuart Pryde who talked so brilliantly of his wife Sue's suicide, which will be shown in the St James's Church exhibition coming up, alongside the paintings of Stuart, Sue and Sue's suicide note.  We are going to record a wonderful couple here in West Sussex in March who are suddenly catapulted into cancer and the rapid change to their lives and dreams.  A painting will follow, of both ladies, and another small opening will take place.  We will record both the patient and the carer, and it will expand the scope of AGD to include how the prospect of terminal illness affects the partner who in most cases, is also the carer.

This year, 2012, sees A Graceful Death take part in Palliative Care conferences and training programmes. I am also going to visit schools to talk to the pupils about the exhibition and end of life matters.  I am going to talk about the work I do, and the impact the exhibition has on those that see it - and I suspect, the impact it has on me.  I am always affected by the work.  I am delighted to speak about AGD and I am delighted to show it.  I hope to see you all at the exhibition in St James's  Church in Piccadilly next month too.

Friday 3 February 2012

St James's Church Piccadilly shows A Graceful Death 27 March - 10 April 2012

“Steve As Christ Head After Death.” Oil on wood.24”x 24”

A Graceful Death
An exhibition of paintings from the end of life By Antonia Rolls
Photography and recordings by Eileen Rafferty, Poetry Workshops by Penny Hewlett

 Exhibition at St James's Church, Piccadilly, W1J 9LL
Tuesday 27 March - Tuesday 10 April 2012
opening hours Mon - Sat 10am - 5pm, Sun 12.30pm - 5pm

Exhibition Opening 27 March 7-8.30 pm. 

Poetry Workshops for all with poet Penny Hewlett on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 March, times to be confirmed.

You are all welcome.  To the exhibition, the opening event and the poetry workshops.  Come, see, talk, take part.

The A Graceful Death Story.  
The First Stage.  

A Graceful Death is an exhibition of paintings about the death of my partner from liver cancer.  I watched him move from a life which we took for granted, through the process of dying, to his death, within three months.

I was unable to put the experience of watching him die into a place that was safe and understandable.  I photographed him with intensity and a passion that was beyond words before, during and after his death.  It then took me two years to commit the experience into these paintings.  I had no interest in Steve as he was before the cancer started to change him; I was obsessed with his last few weeks, and only wanted to remember him as he was then.  Despite his body seemingly unable to support the beating of his heart, and despite his struggle to keep breathing, his spirit did not give up.  His breath kept coming, his hands kept moving; his body contained the paradox of life and death at the same time, and the strength of both these forces was beyond my comprehension.  This is what the A Graceful Death exhibition is about.

The day Steve died, I sat with him and saw the empty husk of a real, once powerful, man.  The description of a body as a shell or an empty container, is true.  The power of life has gone and this is where the most pressing of all the questions begins:  Where did he go?  What happened?

This exhibition started with my story.  I hid in my studio for two years trying to hide what I was painting. Those who stumbled onto the paintings however, looked at them with recognition.  This, they would say, is like my mother, my father, my friend, my daughter.  The images were already recognisable to those looking at them; I was not the only one to have suffered bereavement.  And the images I surrounded myself with, were the same images that many, many, others have kept in their minds and hearts following the loss of someone through death.  Some people cried, and the tears were a relief.  It seemed that these images were powerful enough to get us talking and to help us feel that we were not alone, and certainly not mad.  Some responses were angry, and that was not a problem either.  I had been very angry, and had written a prayer that was unequivocal about God having conned me, and lied to me.  I don’t feel like that now.  There was space for anger too, and at no time did the feelings that we uncovered with the paintings, feel too much.  It was a relief to speak of our experiences and find we were able to understand each other.

  The Second Stage

 The exhibition began with Steve, and his paintings are now finished; but the story of everyone else is just beginning. Now, I paint other people approaching death.  Those either facing the end of their lives, or who are undergoing treatment for a life threatening condition.  I am including paintings of Survivors in the exhibition; survivors of the bereavement process, and those who have survived a life threatening illness and are, for the moment, all clear. Alongside each painting are some words from the sitter, telling us something about them.  Included in each exhibition too are the poems that are created at the Poetry Workshops run by our A Graceful Death poet, Penny Hewlett, and poems sent in by people moved to do so by the exhibition.  These are displayed on our Wall of Words.  Eileen Rafferty, who takes all the A Graceful Death photographs and helps with each exhibition, is recording interviews with those sitting for paintings in the exhibition, and these will enhance their story.  Neill Blume, a film maker, is creating a short film to show how the exhibition works, and some of the reactions of those who visit.

The Third Stage

The exhibition is beginning to work alongside training programmes in palliative care.  It is beginning to show alongside awareness raising events for end of life issues, and to be part of a large and organised public debate on death and dying. I am showing the exhibition alongside speakers, workers and experts in palliative care, to educate, encourage debate, and to start the conversation on what it means to die.  In May 2012 the exhibition will show in a programme for Dying Matters week, alongside training events for palliative care professionals.  In November 2012, A Graceful Death joins forces with Sheffield Universtiy to exhibit alongside seminars, discussions and lectures on end of life issues from the faculties of, amonst others, Medicine, Philosophy and Religion.


A Graceful Death exhibition is about the end of life, the way we die, and the process of our dying.  It is also about educating people in the work that so many do to help people as they die, helping both professionally and as carers at home or in our communities, and the ways in which we can understand the process of the end of life better.  We, who are not yet in this position, watch others go and know we too will follow at some point.  It is important to know this and to acknowledge it.  Our lives are finite, and it is certain that we will, whatever we feel about it, die.  Once we have lost someone we love, death can become less fearful.  It becomes easier for most of us to speak the word death and to talk about dying.  And having the dying live honestly amongst us is the best thing we can do for them, and they for us.

This exhibition is profound, raw, powerful and real.  Death and Dying are unforgettable.  It is also about love, life, hope and the fact that Life, really, Does Go On.

“Alone With Tea”  diptych that says that even though your heart is breaking, there is always Tea.  And even if you hold your mug drooping at your side, there is still comfort. Acrylic on wood.