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The ‘Before I Die’ Festival: A festival for the living about dying

May 11th-20th 2013 - Curator: Professor Jenny Kitzinger

The ‘Before I Die’ festival (held to coincide with Dying Matters Awareness week) was designed to challenge cultural taboos around death, support discussion of end-of-life wishes, allow reflection on grief and loss, and help to build the social and policy context to support as good a death as possible for each of us.

Over seven hundred people took part in a wide programme range of events including theatre, exhibitions, poetry and music.

In the subsequent evaluation 93% of festival participants said that the events had influenced their thinking or feelings and 74% reported that they would definitely use the information gained in their personal or professional lives.

More than one in four also said they would definitely stay in touch with someone they had met at the events.

For more information on the topic, please visit the following pages:

  • 'Conversations on Death' - To encourage conversations that explore and change our culture around the process of dying, death and grief
  • 'Death Cafe' - at death cafes people drink tea, eat cake and discuss death. Our aim is to increase awareness of death to help people make the most of their (finite) lives.
The 'Before I Die' Festival - Interview with Jenny Kitzinger (YouTube)

How did the ancient Britons bury their dead? Archaeologists met with visitors at an ancient burial site to find outHow did the ancient Britons bury their dead? Archaeologists met with visitors at an ancient burial site (Saturday 11 May)

A tour of a greenland burial site included an exhibition of wicker and felt coffins A tour of a greenland burial site included an exhibition of wicker and felt coffins (Sunday 12 May)


'The Brightclub' - explored taboos with comedy sketches about death 'The Brightclub' - explored taboos with comedy sketches about death (Monday 13 May)

An exhibition of messages on postcards from people who have lost a relative to long terms comas - vegetative statesAn exhibition of messages on postcards from people who have 'lost' relatives to the vegetative state (long terms 'coma') (Thursday 16 May)

Festival participants said

The whole festival has been a terrific success...part of a growing social movement to reflect on how we manage death and dying...The festival has helped a great deal to open up the issues ... the reluctance that there is to talk about the subject in policy, clinical and other circles and to try to break through that...’ [Mark Drakeford, Minister for Health and Social Services, Welsh government]

This is the first time I’ve been in a context where it is possible to speak about [circumstances surrounding my husband’s death]. A context of support and understanding to begin to articulate my own experience and make sense of it for myself. It has made me feel that I am part of society again and this is a conversation I can have.’ [Festival participant]

I appreciated the chance to discuss the issues with others in an adult fashion. … Hugely satisfying to encounter others who have thought about how they want to die.’ [Festival participant]

If only every panel like this could be at the end of a festival – the audience was terrific!’ [Nancy Berlinger, Panel Presenter on Advance Decisions, Hastings Centre for Bioethics, USA]


Evaluation Report on the Before I Die Festival

The Festival was organised with the aim of encouraging conversation about end of life wishes, and debate about death and dying. It included events involving staff in every Humanities School in Cardiff University as well as the involvement of staff from other universities (e.g. Bath, York, King’s College, Loughborough) and partnerships with the National museum of Wales, the Chapter Arts Centre and the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff. In total there were 28 different events ranging from panel discussions and guided walks to exhibitions, poetry, music and theatre.

Audience

The festival attracted extensive publicity (including in The Times and BBC News online) and the total number of people for the events came to just over 700 (some people attending several different events across the 10 days). The audience came mostly from outside the university, and over a third came from outside Cardiff. The events attracted practitioners such as health professionals and lawyer as well as the general ‘lay public’ (especially older people).

Impact/Engagement key points

  • 224 questionnaires were completed - everyone who filled in a questionnaire felt they had learnt something from coming along to the festival
  • The majority (93%) also felt that the event had influenced their thinking and feelings
  • The festival helped to build networks: 26% of respondents said they definitely intended to make contact with someone they had met via the festival (with a further 45.4% thinking they might do so)

Continued... The full 34 page Evaluation Report on the Before I Die Festival

A choir sang songs they have rehearsed to sing at one another's funerals A choir sang songs they have rehearsed to sing at one another's funerals (Saturday 18 May)

‘Our Local Cemetery’ A walking tour of Cathays Cemetery explained how death had changed over the centuries‘Our Local Cemetery’ A walking tour of Cathays Cemetery explained how death had changed over the centuries (Sunday 19 May)

To close the festival, an international panel of experts discussed ways of trying to ensure end-of-life wishes would be respectedTo close the festival, an international panel of experts discussed ways of trying to ensure end-of-life wishes are respected (Monday 20 May)


Inviting people to reflect on life - the 'Before I die' boards at the National Eisteddfod of Wales, inspired by the artist candy chang