L-R: Antonia Beck and Lucy Nicholls
If you were told you only had a few months to live, would your family and friends know what kind of funeral you want? Do you feel comfortable talking to them about how you want to die? Following the theme of this year’s Dying Matters Awareness Week, “Are we ready?” in this new series we’ll be speaking to different people to find out how they feel about discussing death and dying, and how they’re preparing for it.
Lucy Nicholls is co-writer and performer in The Death Show, a play that sees Lucy and her sidekick Antonia Beck embark on a quest to dispel their fear of death, taking them from séances to a mortuary via film noir and games of fantasy funerals. It’s a humorous, witty show, that despite the subject matter is hugely uplifting.
“We’ve had really positive reactions from audiences” Lucy says. “Myself and Antonia wanted it to be fun and life-affirming, our remit was that it would not be depressing. We did loads of research, had lots of different experiences and then we brought a lot of that together with the help of Bernadette Russell, the director and also the co-writer. We were really interested in working with Bernadette because she has a really comedic style as well, and I think combined with our aims it was inevitable it was going to be quite fun.”
Lucy explains that comedy is a great way to break down some of the taboos around death and alleviate the fears people feel towards it. Did making this show mollify any of their own uneasiness? “Antonia and I have had quite different experiences. For Antonia I think it has alleviated quite a lot of her fear, or at least she’s really benefited from exploring it, finding out more has made her less anxious about death. I’m not sure that I feel the same if I am honest. My fears around it are quite complex – I feel better informed, but I’m still not sure what’s going to happen on the big day or after that, there’s been no confirmation of the afterlife yet.”
For Lucy, her worry is largely around what happens after dying. “It’s not seeing family again. Also it’s a lot to do with death of the ego as well. We can only experience the world through our perceptions, and I think that for it to continue without us here is quite challenging for many people because for us as individuals the world and everything in it dies when we do. We stop experiencing it and we can only understand it through that prism of experience. So I am still quite worried about death.”
However despite this she made plans for her death a long time ago, even before putting together The Death Show, and she talked these through with the people she’s closest to. “I did a piece where I wrote my will and I bequeathed memories as well as physical objects, because I don’t have loads of possessions. I was very interested in the idea of what you can leave behind if you don’t have lots of material things” she explains.
“I’ve made my funeral arrangements and my partner has a bit of paper with what I want. I’m very keen on being buried, and that would be a woodland burial and I’d like it done on the cheap. It would be tasteful, there’d be a shroud, and fresh flowers that are local wild flowers so it would be environmentally friendly. I’d be quite happy in the back of someone’s car as I really dislike the idea of funeral poverty and making any family member have to pay lots of money for it.”
The conversations were upbeat, she says, as she has been talking about death for a long time, to the point where her friends have put in requests for her belongings. “I have quite a nice vintage leather and sheepskin coat which has been requested, and a few people put in requests for different crafts materials or other things I have. People talked about what they wanted.”
“These conversations don’t have to be depressing, they can be quite fun if they’re approached in a lighthearted way. But also I feel like it’s generous talking to people about your own death. If you haven’t conveyed to people whether you want to be an organ donor or not, and how you want your funeral delivered, that’s actually quite a burden to put on them. So rather than being a taboo I see it as doing people a favour by sharing that information.”
Lastly, how would she like to be remembered? “I don’t think it’s something you have that much control over once you’re gone. People remember you through their individual interactions with you. In a physical sense I’d like something that marks my grave at the woodland burial that people would be welcome to visit. I’d hope people remember me in a positive way, but I think you have to relinquish control of it.”
Dying Matters Awareness Week runs until May 19.
The Death Show is on tour, for a full list of dates visit their website