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Death is a part of life – so let's talk about it

The Sheffield Life, Loss and Death Festival takes place this May with a mission to break through taboos, awkwardness and anxiety about death and dying. Here's why it's important.

Life and death festival coffin
Woven Farewell Coffins

Death is universal. We will all die and we are all likely to experience grief at the loss of loved ones. So why are we so squeamish about talking about it?

The work of Compassionate Sheffield and its Life, Loss and Death Festival is focussed on breaking through taboos, awkwardness and anxiety about the great unknown, towards a place where people in the city are empowered to think deeply and talk openly about death. The festival, which comes to Sheffield this May, uses all kinds of event formats and venues to engage people in the topic, from exhibitions and 'death cafes' to music performances and open mics.

This matters for so many reasons. Talking about what a 'good' death might look, for us and for our loved ones, could make that more likely to happen. If we don't think and talk about it, we might find ourselves in a situation when we don't know what our loved ones want, or vice versa. It takes us into a space where we come to understand what quality of life means for each of us and what we value most. Through exploring this, we also start to consider things like writing a will and advanced care planning, which allows us to 'officially' record what we would want from end-of-life care.

Grief can also be a great connector. Through its work in the city, including the recently-completed Covid testimonial project Stories From The Pandemic, Compassionate Sheffield has found that sharing experiences of death and dying is one of the best foundations for building compassion and understanding across generations, cultures and lived experiences. Through processing grief – and in some cases considering how the loss of a loved one didn't go according to their, or our, wishes – we again get closer to understanding what a good death looks like for us.

It's okay not to have all the answers. But by showing up authentically, being open to learning from others and sharing experiences, we can break the stigma surrounding these topics.

We're committed to creating supportive, judgment-free environments where there’s no such thing as a silly question. These conversations can help to foster understanding, support and self-reflection among individuals, families, communities and beyond, helping us embrace what truly matters in our finite lives and empower more conversations to continue.

Cally Bowman, Compassionate Sheffield

Life, Loss and Death Festival runs throughout May 2024. All events are free but you need to book a ticket ahead of time, unless they are labelled as 'drop-in' sessions.

Some highlights

Death Cafes
Various dates and venues - see programme
Death Cafes are spaces created for people to have supportive and open conversations around life loss and death without an agenda. There are multiple throughout the festival, both in person and online, including sessions created specifically for carers, the LGBTQ+ community and neurodivergent folk.

The Gifts We Leave Behind
Sun 5 May, 2-4pm, SADACCA

A safe, supportive space to bring items and memories that we cherish in grief, to share stories of them and reflect on what we will leave in our place.

Coffin Weaving, Shroud Making and the Greening of Funeral Practices
Sun 12 May, 10.30am-1pm, Newfield Green Library

A conversation on all things willow coffins, natural shrouds and sustainable, green funeral practices and choices in the UK.

Circle of Life in Nature
Thu 30 May, 10.30am-12.30pm, 230th Gleadless Scout Hut
A woodland nature session for families to explore ideas around life and death cycles, with creative activities and a campfire. (Note: this event is not wheelchair accessible)

Access information
Compassionate Sheffield say:

We have endeavoured to ensure that all festival venues and online sessions are as accessible as possible. There are three venues that are unfortunately not wheelchair accessible (Pub Philosophy on May 7th, Grief Writing Workshop on May 19th and Circle of Life in Nature on May 30th). All other events and venues are wheelchair accessible.

If you have any accessibility or support needs, you are very welcome to share this with us before attending the event. We endeavour to ensure that the event you’re attending is as accessible as possible. For any questions, or to discuss any accessibility needs, please contact Cally Bowman.

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