Death and grieving occupy a very different place in society in the United Kingdom.
The first hospice was founded in a suburb of London in 1967. Bernard Crettaz hosted the first “Death Café” in Neuchatel, Switzerland in 2004, but the idea took off when Jon Underwood held one in his London home. In his words, the purpose is ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’. I’ve hosted several myself in the Chicago area and can attest to the power of releasing the stigma of talking about death.
I’m not sure where I first heard someone offer “to absent friends” as a toast. It might’ve been one of those 1960s WWII movies. It can refer to friends who are simply not present or those who are dead. Scotland has found a way to make a week-long festival out of this sentiment.
To Absent Friends hosts a festival held around the country from November 1-7 to preserve Scottish traditions expressing loss and remembrance. From their website:
In Mexico, they still hold a huge holiday each year – Mexican Day of the Dead – dedicated to remembering family and friends who have died. Graves are tidied and decorated, special meals are prepared, and people remember, respect and celebrate those who have died.
Can we create a Scottish version of the Mexican Day of the Dead?
Scotland has a rich heritage of storytelling, especially as winter approaches and the nights draw in. What if we revive Scottish customs of remembrance that have lain dormant for so long in Samhain and All Souls Day? Can we recreate a meaningful opportunity for storytelling and remembrance in the Scottish tradition?
The events scheduled this year run the gamut: workshops on creating memory boxes, concerts, a screening of Coco, poetry readings, discussions over breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner, even a tribute wall at a local football (soccer for those of us in the US) game. And always, always storytelling.
The first week of November, as winter begins to make its presence known, has long been a time to honor the dead. Your culture or community or faith tradition likely has its own rituals. But until we eliminate the stigma of talking about the friends who have died, people will still grieve in silence and isolation without support.
If you’re on Twitter, To Absent Friends offers some tips on engaging this week, along with their social media handles. I’ll be sharing there, as well as on Facebook and Instagram. One of those friends in particular is the reason why I became a writer. Her remembrance will come first, as always.
It’s always a good time to remember the friends we’ve lost, don’t you think?