One of the interesting things that has happened since my book came out is the number of people I have met who are actively involved in raising awareness about what it means to die here in North American. Though my work focuses on better supporting the grieving, I’ve come to understand that how we die and our ideas about dying can impact our grief. Because we have lost much of our knowledge around the dying process, when someone is dying and it doesn’t look like it does in the movies (because it often takes days and not minutes) we can get freaked out. So I find it very interesting that we now have a “Swan Song” Festival that will run in 16 communities across Canada on October 19th (pretty good for a first year event). Local members of Community Deathcare Canada (CDC) are hosting each of these events.
Judith McGill, the CDC national lead, for the Festival agreed to satisfy my curiosity this week and share with me what exactly these events are about and what CDC is hoping to accomplish by organizing this initiative.
Heike: Welcome Judith. Thanks for taking the time to do this with me. Let’s start with you telling me a little bit about the Swan Song Festival?
Judith McGill: Thanks Heike for making this possible. The Swan Song Festival invites the public to come together and collectively “imagine better” when it comes to dealing with the dying and death of a loved one. People whose beliefs reflect the vision of Community Deathcare Canada are hosting these events. The festival marks the formal launch of Community Deathcare Canada as a national organization.
As you mentioned events will be held in 16 cities across Canada. These events will help communities, families and individuals, such as you and me engage with and add to our personal and collective knowledge and understanding of death, dying, loss and grief. Our collective aim is to reclaim death as an honoured part of life. For example, here in Toronto, there are 4 events being hosted. There is a death café, cemetery tours, a dance workshop that explores loss and dying through movement, and an evening Extravaganza of poetry and song on the themes of Grief and Sorrow. Every event creates a different type of opportunity to engage.
Because member organizations in different cities host their own events the best thing to do is to check out our website at Swan Song Festival to see which events are being hosted in what cities.
Heike: That’s a great overview. I know a lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of dying (myself included). Yep, even though I’ve witness several deaths, I’m still uncomfortable with this great unknown. My question is how do you think these festivals will help demystify death and help us, individually and culturally to be a little less afraid of death and deathcare?
Judith: Shared experiences help us to move forward in our thinking. Coming together in these ways helps us to understand that we are not the only person who has questions and is interested in figuring out how to do this part of life better. We expect the festival will draw people who have been intrigued by the mystery of death and who have an appetite for opening up to a new way of thinking about and experiencing death. Many will be ordinary people who have already re-discovered how they as a family want to deal with the dying and death of their loved ones. Some have been part of or born witness to powerful ceremonies and have had meaningful conversations that helped them to “normalize” death as something to contend with as a natural part of life. Some will just be curious. We’re very excited about the possibilities.
Heike: You are absolutely right. It’s only through dialogue, in whatever shape or form it takes, that we’re able to explore what’s working, what isn’t working and how we might do things better. This is a big undertaking. Thanks for spearheading this. My next question is about Community Death Care Canada. Would you please tell me a little bit about CDC itself?
Judith: Community Deathcare Canada is made up of individuals and organizations that want to transform the way all of us meet dying and death within our families and our communities. We believe a more intimate and participatory relationship with dying and deathcare can create healing and transformative experiences. We believe that death is a profound, mysterious and universal part of life, which presents opportunities for loving and compassionate encounters between individuals. We offer help and guidance to local communities to better support people and families to create more sustainable and holistic options when it comes to caring for the dying.
Our members include death educators, death midwives, death doulas, shroud makers, home hospice workers, community activists, grief counselors, celebrants and home funeral guides to name a few. I’ll send you some info. Maybe you’ll want to become more involved.
Heike: Thanks. Please send it my way. I do see the many overlaps in what we’re both trying to do. And as we both know, it’s a big job and the more of us working on it together the better it will be. That about wraps this up. So in closing would you please let my readers know how they can get tickets and where to learn more?
Judith: Some of the events are free and some charge a nominal amount, mostly to offset the cost of hosting the event. We are encouraging people to register and get tickets for any of the events they intend to attend. That way they won’t be disappointed. Details on all of the Swan Song Festival events being hosted across Canada and ticket sales are available at https://swansongfestival.ca/events. Anyone interested in learning more about Community Deathcare Care can check us out at https://www.communitydeathcare.ca
Heike: Once again, thank you Judith and I’d like to also thank all of the folks who are working on trying to dismantle the death/dying taboo. I know that as we re-familiarize ourselves with death, we will also become better at supporting those who grieve.
In Toronto, tickets for the Moving/Still dancing workshop and the evening Extravaganza on Grief and Sorrow through Poetry and Song are $15. You can get tickets by going to the Eventbrite link at the Swan Song Festival link here: https://swansongfestival.ca/toronto-on-variety It is also possible to get tickets at the door for the Extravaganza in Toronto.
The Death Café discussion in Toronto on how talking about death won’t kill you and the Mount Pleasant Cemetery tours from “Millionaires’ Row to Potter’s Row” are absolutely free.
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