In Haunt

Talking about death, grief and bereavement matters. This is a point upheld by This Grief Thing – a project from artists at Fevered Sleep, inviting people to talk and learn about grief.

At an event hosted by SICK! Festival at Manchester Metropolitan University, we spoke to Sam Butler and David Harradine, the Artistic Directors of Fevered Sleep (pictured below), to find out more about a project that has been popping up across the country. Excitingly, the location of a new shop in Manchester in 2019 will be announced soon, presented in partnership with SICK! Festival.

Sam and David

“Grief is not something that is really taught in schools, and people aren’t equipped to deal with it,” reflects David. “With This Grief Thing we wanted to provide a format that could be considered doing three things: to make grief more visible, to suggest that it is a natural state and to encourage people to find better ways of acknowledging it.”

“It can often seem that people don’t feel like they have the ‘permission’ to talk about grief,” adds Sam. “No permission is needed – we can just go ahead and talk. Doing so can be massively beneficial and constructive.”

Also in attendance at the Manchester workshop was Fevered Sleep Programme Producer Louisa Borg-Constanzi-Potts, and a range of Fevered Sleep resources were on display, including cards and cues for discussion.

Fevered Sleep is an arts organisation determined to embrace experimentation and empathy within their work – with This Grief Thing being a key example. Crucially, it is for anyone to get involved with – whether they have experienced grief or not. Aiming to smash down the stigma of discussing grief, dying and bereavement, the project instead makes these subjects visible – in the form of temporary shops!

This Grief Thing Shop

How does this format work? As part of the project, Fevered Sleep have opened a series of temporary This Grief Thing shops across the country, running for 10 days at a time and hosted by Sam and David. Locations have included Sneinton Market in Nottingham, Captain Cook Square in Middlesbrough and St George’s Shopping Centre in Preston. From the 9-18 November last year, they also hosted a pop-up here in Manchester, within The Whitworth art gallery shop.

Taking the form of a pop-up installation, the This Grief Thing shops provide place to talk, with the option of various merchandise for sale; including clothing, badges, bags and condolence cards. These items are always pay-as-you-feel and often contain phrases such as ‘Make Space For Grief’ and ‘Grief = Love’ which can serve as prompts for conversation.

Grief is Love

“Grief = Love is one of the phrases that stands out to me,” reflects David. “As even when a person has died, our love for them, our relationship with them, continues. So whilst we are grieving, we are still loving too.

“Yet society doesn’t often discuss grief like this. It is a problem that something so common is often so hidden or unspoken, treated as a source of shame and embarrassment”.

“There are many people out there in a state of not knowing if it’s even okay to talk about their grief,” adds Sam. “People do a lot of avoiding the subject – but for most, that is not very helpful! There is no wrong or right way to feel… and talking about that matters. No one person grieves the same. There is a diversity of grief because of the diversity of human experience: it is difficult. But by breaking down the barriers to talking about it, we can all support each other.”

“A key aspect of the project is to look at the language that is used around death and grief,” adds David. “There are lots of euphemisms used to refer to death – consider ‘passed away’ and ‘lost’ for example - rather than people actually talking about dying or being dead. Of course, we’re not here to police people… people speak as they do… what we what to do is question why these euphemisms exist. We want people to feel that they can speak about grief and death without shame.”

In Memory Of

During the 10-day running of the temporary shops, Sam and David have also used them as a place to host Grief Gatherings. These are small group conversations about grief, open to everyone – therefore bringing a diversity of people together to discuss the topic.

Refreshingly, there is no right or wrong way to talk about grief either; the experience is unique to everyone and each has their own insight. Whether people want to talk about their personal experience of grief, reflect on it as a concept or simply listen - it is up to them. At The SICK! Festival workshop at Manchester Metropolitan University, Sam and David then illustrated this, with a Grief Gathering taking place for attendees.

 “Grief Gatherings provide a format for people to openly talk,” says David. “People can discuss grief of all kinds… as we say, there is no hierarchy to it. Whether you are grieving for a parent or grieving for a pet. Grief is grief and how people deal with is different; no one’s grief is more or less important.

“Yet there is no rulebook to grief, no set way to react – and this is one of the key reasons people may struggle to talk about it. Whilst there is a cultural narrative for ‘love’ which typically has a happy ending, that doesn’t exist for grief. So how do we express it? How do we communicate it? This project seeks to explore that more.”

Grief

People can host their own Grief Gatherings too – with Sam and David keen for the concept to be taken up by others. From bringing family members together to talk about grief to proposing meet-ups in a café or pub: Grief Gatherings can take place in a range of settings. For those who want to take part in a Grief Gathering or host one themselves, get in touch with Fevered Sleep via griefgatherings@feveredsleep.co.uk or 07493750427.

“A Grief Gathering is really simple,” says Sam. “It is inviting people along to talk about grief. It’s often easier to talk to people who are strangers about a topic like this – and we can give people tools and resources such as prompt cards, to facilitate one for themselves.”

This Grief Thing

In addition, This Grief Thing has led a billboard and poster campaign in each of the shop locations, seeking to present the question ‘Can We Talk About Grief?’ It challenges the stigma that exists about talking about death and bereavement, something that David reflects on:

“We’ve talked to various experts about grief in other cultures,” he says “And in particular to Britain, we heard a lot about the national decision so to speak to ‘brace up and carry on’ after the two World Wars. Rather than the trauma of re-acknowledging the horrific scale of death, it was more pragmatic to try and look forward. This looking forwards has continued to be a theme in healthcare as we know it today: the pre-occupation with preserving life at all costs… it somehow makes death seem further and further away. In turn, this makes talking about it even harder. That is what we want to change. And it can change. Learning, listening and talking are great ways to start.”

Find out more about Fevered Sleep and their other projects via their website: http://www.feveredsleep.co.uk/ and This Grief Thing is also online.

For more on SICK! Festival, the event series and biennial festival that seeks to celebrate artistic approaches to health themes, visit the website. The next festival runs in Manchester on 18th September - 5th October 2019.

By Emily Oldfield

Images 2, 3 + 4 thanks to Garry Cook, the rest of the images thanks to Fevered Sleep

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