Reflections on Continuing Bonds, May 2014, #YODO

A short write-up on Continuing Bonds: a special Dying Matters Awareness Week event, hosted by LOROS Hospice and Leicester Cathedral, 14th May 2014

The conference provided an excellent forum for discussions around death and dying. The day was instigated by Prof Christina Faull, who I had the fortune of meeting at the Palliative Care Congress in March, where our conversations sparked the incentive for Wednesday’s event. Following a welcome by Rev Peter Hobson of Leicester Cathedral, the day commenced with some inspirational comments and reflections from Professor Mayur Lakhani, Chair of Dying Matters, including some of the practical advice of the ‘Dying Awareness Week: You Only Die Once’ #YODO campaign (encouraging people with advanced disease to ask questions of their doctors, including  ‘what can I expect’, and to ask for help with a care plan for the future). He also reminded us of the growing importance of our digital legacies – including discussing what we would like to happen with Facebook and other Social Media forums, and the possibilities for arranging digital messages to be sent to loved ones in the future.

I had the tough job of following Mayur Lakhani. I talked about practices from the Neolithic of the Middle East, including burial beneath house floors, the plastering of skulls, and some introductions to grave goods, framed in the context of ‘Continuing Bonds’. I ended with some reflections on experiences of excavating human remains. My talk was followed by Prof Sarah’s Tarlow’s overview of burial practices through time, including particular focus on the Medieval, and the expected beliefs about the body and burial at the time of Richard III.

Rev Alison Adams proceeded with a thought-provoking reflection on burial and some of the key issues and decisions in preparing for Richard III’s final resting place, including the practical needs to be visible and accessible, while quiet and respectful. She also highlighted the importance of ritual and ceremony (whatever religion or absence of religion) , including insights from her work with prisoners, and the anguish at the denial of funeral attendance.

Prof Kevin Schurer called in to provide a talk on changing demographics, focusing on the impact of an increased mortality rate on personal and communal experiences of death (in the past), as well as role of paintings/portraits taken of the deathbed, something which has gradually become taboo. The talk highlighted just how lucky we are today, with life expectancies vastly increased from those of our ancestors.

The day ended with some insightful group talks around key themes from the day, chaired by Mandy Motley, Director or Education at LOROS Hospice, including asking the participants to reflect on their legacies. The discussion proved valuable – a chance to hear more from other disciplines and different perspectives, whether religious, secular, medical, or personal.

It was fantastic incorporating the views and experiences of a range of professionals during the day, including hospice workers, religious leaders, archaeologists and historians, and framing the event around Richard III provided a grounding for including debate from different perspectives, crossing the contemporary and (pre)historical divide. A fabulous edition to Dying Awareness Week.

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