Light Behind Death – engaging young people with art

Categories: Care and Community Engagement.

Mireille Hayden, senior partner at end of life care training company Gentle Dusk, writes about encouraging young people to talk about death and bereavement with art.

Most people think death is depressing, sad, taboo and not to be talked about. They certainly think death is not a subject for young people. But every year 20,000 young people will experience the death of a parent or sibling; thousands more will lose a grandparent, other family member, friend, or pet. Many parents, teachers and young people struggle to know how to talk about it, leaving people feeling isolated and alone.

Gentle Dusk and AgeUK Islington teamed up with City and Islington College in London to ask young people to help open up conversations about death and dying and challenge perceptions by capturing the “light behind death” on camera.

Amel, 17, and Lilith, 18, students at City and Islington College, are passionate about photography. Having had difficult bereavement experiences, they felt it was important to “bring this topic to light”.  They wanted to take some photographs to use the arts as a means to open up conversations. Their photos were displayed in Light Behind Death, an online exhibition which saw over 300 visitors.

“A lot of people suffer and then cannot talk about these issues, which is pretty sad, we have to go through all these things and have to face it eventually one day. We have to start speaking about it” says Amel, a keen photographer studying Health and Social Care.

“Learning how to move on after losing someone is hard, but it does not mean you have to stop living. Cherish the moments you shared previously together, do what they loved to do.

Of her winning photograph, displayed above, she says “the guy is meant to represent the deceased person in her life, and she is remembering the time they shared together.”

“I got the inspiration from Bunhill cemetery” says Lilith of her image, which won third prize. “I just think it is a great time of year because everything is blooming and it is springtime, and I just loved how everything looked so beautiful there even though it was a graveyard”.

“I think this image represents the light behind death because although there are gravestones in the background I have chosen to focus on the bluebells growing around them. To me this represents that you do not have to focus on the bad things when a loved one passes, instead you can learn and grow as a person from the experience.”

Involving young people in conversations about death, dying and bereavement may seem like a difficult thing to do, but by using the arts to engage them and their communities it turns out they are actually a very willing audience. We do not need to be “teaching” them about end of life, we just need to give them opportunities to open up and share the experiences, thoughts and feelings they already have within them.

For more information visit Gentle Dusk