Angela Gutzer and Nicola Finch are local end-of-life guides (also known as death doulas) who connected in the fall of 2017 thanks to a Green Gazette article written by Angela that alerted Nicola to their shared passion for ‘doing death differently’.
The two women soon formed the Cariboo Community Deathcaring Network (CCDC) and have been offering regular Death Cafes in Williams Lake as well as a handful of End of Life planning workshops.
This fall, in partnership with Community Deathcare Canada, CCDC Network is hosting the Swan Song Festival. This inaugural annual festival is intended to mobilize communities across Canada to re-engage with dying and deathcare in more meaningful, holistic, and environmentally sustainable ways.
The Swan Song Festival focuses on Death. Yours and mine.
We don’t talk about it much. We rarely act like it’s right in front of us, but we all face the same inevitable end. And we all dwell in that time before. That decade, that week, that moment before death.
Young or old, sick or well; we’re celebrating a birth, we’re singing off key, preparing a meal, we are counting our dimes, writing a paper, closing a door, we’re loving and grumbling, and living our lives. And then death. Our own or the death of someone we love. The End.
Have you contemplated your own dying time? Have you thought about your death or the deaths of those you love most in the world—your mother, your dog, your best friend, your garden?
And what of the bigger picture—our global grief over the plight of whales and coral reefs, the decimation of our forests, melting ice caps, cultural genocide? Some will say, “Let’s focus on the positive, the beautiful, the flowers as they turn their heads to the sun. Let us not contemplate the end of things.”
But we know that by facing death, by talking about it and sharing our thoughts and feelings with our loved ones, we turn our own faces to the sun. We may not embrace it, but by accepting the inevitable, we tend to find more joy in our finite lives. We make better use of the time we have with the people we love and the gardens we tend.
“Joy has everything to do with the fact that we’re all going to die…if you and I know we’re each in the process, there is something that will happen between us. There’s some kind of tenderness that might be possible.”
—Poet Ross Gay in conversation with Krista Tippett at onbeing.org/programs/ross-gay-tending-joy-and-practicing-delight/
Festivals where we honour our dead and face our own mortality are found throughout human history. One such festival is held annually in Tucson, Arizona. From its inception in 1990, artists, teachers, and community activists there have grown a magnificent event that culminates in the All Souls Procession, a community parade of gigantic proportions.
“Festal Culture,” they explain, “is the expression and fulfillment of core human needs through public celebration, ceremony, and ritual. The All Souls Procession is an event that was created to serve the public need to mourn, reflect, and celebrate the universal experience of death through their ancestors, loved ones, and the living.”
They build a gigantic urn each year and invite anyone, anywhere (we can participate virtually) to add names of loved ones, prayers, hopes, and wishes. The finale is a ritual burning of the urn and the messages. The urn was created out of “a communal need for a focal point: a place to channel all the energy, grief, and joy of the participants.” Read more at www.allsoulsprocession.org
Throughout North America, Death Festivals have been bringing people together to learn, celebrate, question, and create. On October 26, we invite you to join us as we Breathe Life into Death at the Swan Song Festival in Williams Lake.
It is good for us to invite death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move.
The Swan Song Festival, with the support of the Central Cariboo Arts and Culture Society, will take place at the Central Cariboo Arts Center in Williams Lake, Saturday October 26 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. This is a free event for community members of all ages and from all walks of life.
Stay tuned for details on the day’s events including children’s activities, ritual, art, spoken word, an open mic, music, interactive activities, humour, mini Death Cafes, workshops, information on home funerals and building your own coffin, and an outdoor labyrinth to walk. See the Swan Song Festival Website at www.breathinglifeintodeath.ca for more info.