To Absent Friends festival in Scotland returns for a fifth year

Categories: Community Engagement.

People across Scotland are being invited to take part in To Absent Friends – the people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance – which starts this Thursday.

The festival,- which first  began in 2014 and has grown in popularity year on year – gives people across Scotland the opportunity to remember loved ones who have died, through stories, celebrations and acts of reminiscence.

It is open to anyone to participate, in whatever way they choose. In previous years, people have held concerts, storytelling evenings, craft activities, remembrance meals and a whole range of other events as a way to remember those who have died within their community or family group.

“Most people have lost someone dear to them,” says Robert Peacock of Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief, the alliance of organisations behind the festival. “But they live on in our stories and memories. To Absent Friends recognises that. We want people to stop and take some time to share those stories – whether it’s just raising a glass, getting the old photo albums out, or something more formal.”

One of the people organising an event for To Absent Friends is Lara Celini, who is holding a community ceilidh and reminiscence café in Willowbrae, Edinburgh. She has her own personal story to tell:

“My best friend died ten years ago. We’d just spent a wonderful new year together in rural Perthshire. She had so much to look forward to, and we had so many plans, and then she went for a walk and never came back. Bad luck and bad weather resulted in her getting lost in snowy woodland in falling light and she died of hypothermia. It was a stark reminder that death is not always expected, and when it happens we are forced to deal with it. We can make it a little bit more bearable by talking about it and supporting each other, because the people we love remain part of our lives, their stories are our stories, and they live on in our memories and in all the experiences we’ve shared.”

She hopes the ceilidh and reminiscence cafe will appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.

“There will be quiet space to reflect and chat over tea and cake, but also space to dance and enjoy some ceilidh music, so hopefully something for everyone. The idea is to bring people together, to open up conversations, and to make it easier for people to talk about death and the people in their lives who have died.”

One idea is the To Absent Friends supper, a gathering of friends or family over food to remember and tell stories of people who have died. Another suggestion is for workplaces and community groups to start a To Absent Friends wall. All it needs is some triangles of coloured paper, some pens and an empty noticeboard. People write a tribute to an absent friend and pin it up, until the wall is filled with memories.

The website also has space for people to share their stories on the online Wall of Remembrance or to add songs to the Remembrance Playlist. People can visit the site at any time to write a message.

Among the many public events being organised are concerts at Canongate Kirk, St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral and the Usher Hall in Edinburgh. But equally important are the smaller community events and personal acts of reminiscence which will be taking place.

The festival welcomes anyone who wants to do something – whether it is a large event or a small personal remembrance. There’s no permission needed to take part, but people can contact Good Life Good Death Good Grief for more information and to publicise their events on the festival website.

To Absent Friends will take place across Scotland from 1 – 7 November 2018.

More information is available on the festival website which offers plenty of suggestions for how people can get involved.