It is a fortunate person who does not have someone close to them who has died. So why do we so rarely speak about the dead? Why does the mention of a dead parent, sibling or partner make people so uncomfortable? Why is bereavement purely something to be “got over” and never spoken of?
These are good questions. In 2014, they led us to create To Absent Friends, a people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance, which now takes place across Scotland each year from 1 – 7 November.
November was always traditionally a time for remembrance – in Christian tradition it is All Souls’ Day, in ancient Gaelic tradition, it was Samhain, when the souls of the dead visited the living. Why could it not be again?
To Absent Friends gives people an opportunity to remember those they have loved who have died in whatever way they feel. It is a time to share stories, come together in celebration, or reminisce in private if that feels easier.
Public events have been organised around the country, from Caithness Big Band’s Night To Remember in Thurso to a Remembrance Supper and Jazz Improv evening in Eskdalemuir. People can browse a full list on the website.
But just as important are the many private reminiscences taking place in people homes, hearts and minds. It is a perfect time to bring family and friends together for a gathering. Get the photo albums out, cook up an old family recipe and tell stories of people who have died – that is a To Absent Friends supper. Or take some triangles of coloured paper and some pens and find an empty noticeboard at your work or community centre. Write a tribute to an absent friend and pin it up, until the wall is filled with memories. That is a To Absent Friends wall.
You do not have to leave the house to take part in To Absent Friends. People can share tributes on the online Wall of Remembrance, and songs on the Remembrance Playlist. Also, during the week people will be changing their social media pictures to those of someone who has died, and sharing stories about them with the hashtags #ToAbsentFriends or #TAF2017. Everyone is encouraged to join in.