People from across Scotland took part in the festival, either by attending one of the many public events, holding their own private acts of remembrance, or contributing to memorial activities on the festival website and across social media.
The festival launched with a special concert at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s new auditorium in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on 29 October.
School children from five different schools worked closely with musicians from the orchestra over several months to compose music for the night. For inspiration, they met and chatted to residents of care homes about their “absent friends”. The resulting works were performed to a delighted audience, interspersed with video footage from the residents themselves.
An anthology of poetry from the evening has been published on the To Absent Friends site.
Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, theatre group Creative Electric took to the streets with theatre piece Dog Stone. The interactive storytelling adventure engages children with the idea that imagination can be a coping mechanism when someone is no longer with us.
The city’s burgeoning spoken word scene also joined in with the festival; Gone But Not Forgotten saw a dozen different performers take to the stage at the Blind Poet pub to tell stories of those they had lost.
A gallery of photos from these and other events is also on the To Absent Friends site.
Hospices were particularly active in To Absent Friends.
Ardgowan Hospice in Greenock worked with secondary school pupils to make a communal wall of remembrance, while at St Columba’s Hospice in Edinburgh, poet Elspeth Murray led a creative writing workshop with staff. The session, called Honouring memories, offered time and space for staff to reflect and share memories of the patients they have cared for.
“It’s nice to have time and space to specifically reflect on those who we miss and love,” said one of the residents at Paisley’s Accord Hospice after sharing songs and stories at their day therapy remembrance event.
Some care homes took the opportunity to invite relatives of former residents back to share their stories. At Rosepark and Rosehill Care Homes in Lanarkshire, relatives participated in a memorial balloon release, while in the Peacock Nursing Home in Livingston, they brought in a professional singer to add a musical twist to proceedings.
And from Portskerra on the far north coast, to the Isle of Lewis, to Penicuik in the south of Scotland, a variety of different craft events were held, allowing people to create objects to remember their loved ones.
On Facebook and Twitter, people changed their profile picture to a loved one who had died, and shared stories of their lives. Many organisations did the same with their social media. Parkinsons UK changed their picture to their founder Mali Jenkins, for instance.
Local history pages Lost Edinburgh and Lost Glasgow shared the festival with their tens of thousands of followers.
Dinners have also been held to the memory of absent friends, including one at the Scottish Parliament.
“We are delighted that the festival has been such a success and that so many people have taken it to their hearts,” said Robert Peacock of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care, the organisation behind the festival and the wider year-round Good Life Good Death Good Grief initiative, which encourages more openness about death and end of life issues.
“At the events I’ve attended, and from what’s been shared online, I’ve been amazed at the stories people have to tell, and moved too. The death of a loved one isn’t an easy thing to discuss, but people have been really open about it, and it’s been received really positively.”
Even though the festival is officially over for this year, remembrances continue. An exhibition of the winning entries to the Essence of a Memory photo competition will be touring the country throughout the year. The competition invited people to capture the memory of a loved one in a photo and fifty words, and eight winners were chosen by writer and former Edinburgh Makar, Ron Butlin, and photographer, Colin Gray.
People can also continue adding songs to the festival’s Remembrance Playlist, a page dedicated to the tunes that remind us of someone who has gone.
To Absent Friends took place across Scotland from 1 – 7 November 2015. More details about the Festival can be found on the website or by following @2absentfriends on Twitter. Good Life Good Death Good Grief can be found on Twitter @lifedeathgrief, on Facebook and on the website.