Sunday 27 April 2014

Art, End of Life Conversations, and Rain.

It is good that it is still raining outside, it makes me concentrate.  When I have paintings to do that require silence and peace, I listen to YouTube tapes of 10 hours of falling rain, on my headphones.  I can work in the sunshine, yes, but that is a whole different set of feelings.  Nice ones, of course, but today it is raining and today I am at one with the rain.  In a healthy kind of way.  And inside, on the sofa, with a pot of tea.

A Graceful Death News

I will be joining the "Dead Good Day Out" event in Southampton on the 10 May.  It is a wonderful community affair, full of workshops, talks, discussions and fun things to do.  AGD will be there, and I will talk for a few minutes on what I do during the day.  Come and see us all, it will be a really dead good day out.

Preparing for the A Graceful Death at St Peter's Church, Preston Park, Brighton is taking up much time.  I have the help of a supportive and hard working team, and I could not do it without them.  For this exhibition, we are hosting facilitated discussions from 2pm to 4pm on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the exhibition.  The topics covered will be Planning for Dying, Supporting the Dying, and Communicating with the Dying.  It is so important for us to engage with each other, to be aware of how much information, support and interest there is for end of life issues.  The Dying Matters message for this Dying Matters Awareness Week is you only die once.  Not only do we have to be prepared for our own deaths, but we must be prepared for other people to die.  Our family, our friends, even strangers.  We can make a difference to other people at the end of life not by coming in and changing everything.  Most dying people have medical care, have family, have friends around them.  We can do much by simply acknowledging what is happening, by listening, by being honest and by not running away.  It is surprising how many of us need to learn to do this and to not run away.  It is with huge pleasure that we, the AGD Brighton Team, can offer informative, interesting and helpful facilitated discussions within the exhibition.  Please go to this link to see the full programme

Thanks to Graphic Artist Extraordinaire Rhona Reedie for this poster below.  

Have you a South Korean documentary tv company coming to film AGD in Brighton?

Why yes!  How did you know?  I am talking to a South Korean documentary television company about filming the exhibition during Dying Matters Awareness Week.  I think this is excellent, and am looking forward to meeting them.  The name of the programme is Docuprime, and it is for the Educational Broadcasting System in South Korea.  


I have written a guest blog for the Dying Matters Coalition, and hope that it will be available soon on their website.  I will let you all know when it comes up by linking to it from this blog and having a party on my sofa.  Dying Matters is a hugely successful and informative, no nonsense website with all the information and advice you could possibly want for end of life matters.  It is part of the National Council of Palliative Care, and is an excellent place to find out all things and every thing about death and dying.  You can see their website here

Progress for our new project "Conversations about end of life, finding time to think in our busy world"

This community based informal and friendly discussion project, begun by Gail Martin Stevens (who runs a family run funeral service in Lancashire) and me, is finding real interest.  I went up to Mossley in Lancashire to do our first one with Gail, and was impressed at how people needed, and wanted, to talk about end of life.  We are hosting a session in June here in Bognor.  The 7 May session has had to be postponed, and because A Graceful Death is taking over May entirely, we are planning a gentle June Conversations. 

Community Organisers, a local charity that helps local communities support and engage with each other, is helping with our Conversations project.  Fourfold Visions, a community arts organisation is also on board, and I am finding that other organisations have had the same idea as Gail and me, and are very interested in promoting the Conversations project.  Good, I say.  And thanks.  In June, then, Gail and I will host a Conversations here in Bognor.  We aim to take these Conversations to wherever they can be taken.  It is an uncomplicated, affirmative and vitally important discussion that we all need to be able to have.  More on this as I organise it.

Gail's family run funeral company is featured here in an earlier blog, have a read, she is wonderful!

What else, Antonia?

What else indeed!  I am really looking forward to speaking at the Friends of Sussex Hospices Ladies Luncheon Club on Wednesday.  The Ladies Luncheon Club is full of ladies who work very hard indeed to support and fund raise for local hospices.  I am very happy to be asked to talk, and very happy to meet them.  I thank the Chair for Friends of Sussex Hospices, Kathy Gore, for this opportunity.  Kathy has tirelessly supported the A Graceful Death exhibition, from the very first exhibition in my house here in Bognor in 2009.  Thank you Kathy.

Is there any more?

That is quite a lot, matey.  I am talking to Alan about going away to a remote Scottish Island in June, we both like the idea of being far away for a couple of days.  I do have a portrait to paint this month, a double portrait of a couple, and I have a Kitchen Fairy to do too.  This, painting, is where I plug in my earphones and listen to hours and hours of rain falling and cars swishing by in the far, far distance, on You Tube.  So back we come, full circle.  I began the blog with the sound of falling rain, and I will end it with falling rain.  It is all very romantic (from inside).  I will end it now with you plugged into the sounds below for the next ten hours, and please don't thank me, it is my pleasure.  Until next week, fare well.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Early on a Rainy Easter Day, News from the Artist Extraordinaire.

It is quiet this morning, and raining.  Giant Boy went to his Grandmothers yesterday, the lodgers are at work or asleep, and I am wrapped up on the sofa with tea, at 7.00 am.  It is Easter Day.  It's blinking early. God dammit.

Happy Easter to you all!  Big hugs.  Now, down to the blog and here is all you need to know about where to come in May.  A Graceful Death is showing twice in May, in Southampton and in Brighton.  It would be lovely to see you there, and lovely to meet those of you who read this account that I have not yet met.

A Graceful Death is coming here for one day

A Dead Good Day Out is a fun day, a day for the family and a day to enjoy taking part in workshops and activities around death and dying (sounds sinister but it is not) and if you want to, to go deeper and find out more about coping with what dying means.  For example, my dear Soul Midwife friend Mandy Preece, will be joining Hospice Nurse Jenny Cane, from 4.15 to 5 pm to help with emotional and practical tips for when someone close is dying.  And for the more light hearted, there will be a ukulele band.  From 1.00 - 1.30 the Southampton Ukulele Jam will be singing "Fine Songs for a Good Life Lived and if need be a Fine Funeral".  

A Graceful Death is showing in the Church itself, on the altar, and will be easy to find.  It will be a full, jolly, interesting, creative day out for everyone.  I am looking forward to it.

A Graceful Death in Preston Park, Brighton.

Thank you to Rhona Reedie for designing this invitation.

The exhibition will open on Tuesday 20 May at 10am.  It will be open from 10am to 10pm daily, in order that all of you who have to get to us from work, can do so. To see the programme of speakers and events, please go to the newly updated AGD blog here, where I will update information for this exhibition 

We are part of not only Dying Matters Awareness Week, but part of the Brighton Fringe Festival too.  I am really happy to have the support of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, and thank them for their help.  This month, I will be writing a guest blog for the Dying Matters Coalition, about A Graceful Death, and hope that it will bring more visitors to take part in this event.  I like the idea that AGD is an umbrella, under which all people can come and discuss, share, remember, think of and educate on all matters to do with the end of life.  You must come too, and take part with us.  Write me a poem, tell me what you think, tell me about you.  Look at the paintings, read the stories, listen to the interviews by Eileen Rafferty, the film by Neill Blume, experience the wonderful music composed by Lizzie Hornby, read the poetry written by members of the public who were moved to do so, write your own poems, put a prayer or intention into the blue bowl of blessed water given to the exhibition by a wonderful lady.  Come and listen to the speakers, take part, for example, in the evening event on Thursday - (see the link to the A Graceful Death blogspot above for full programme details) -

An early Evening Salon on The Art of Dying - Ars Moriendi.
Contributors: Dr Muna AlJawad, Consultant in Elderly Medicine, BSUH,  Medical Students at BSMS, Rev Robert Eastern, Chaplain to Brighton College, And You!

What else, Antonia?

Well.  Dunno really.  I feel so very busy at the moment, that I revert to moron when asked what else I am doing.  I am writing a lot, for Dying Matters guest blog, for the online magazine e-hospice, for a new online magazine called Day By Day, and lots of Facebook updates.  

Paintings - well!  I have just done a God's Study, a light hearted snapshot of God's study as he pops out for ten minutes, leaving all his reading material and papers on the desk.  I have done a couple of these, and adapted them to the person who commissions it, for example, in this painting there is reference to Dad's Army.  The person for whom this is painted is a Dad's Army fan, and wanted it included. The clock is at five minutes to eleven, a reference to the television programme, Five to Eleven, on poetry and prose, that he produced back in the 1980s.

God's Study, always room for more stuff.  Not being delivered till next week, I may add more nonsense to it...
I have a portrait to do, and a Kitchen Fairy, and some decorated stones for Gail Martin Stevens who runs the Elizabeth Way Funeral Services oop North.  But God is good, time is but a man made construct, and I will have them all done.  


Date and Time - May 7th.  Here, in Bognor Regis.  2pm to 4pm. Free.

Event - "Conversations about End of Life, finding time to think in our busy worlds".  With Gail Martin Stevens of Elizabeth Way Funeral Services, we are hosting informal conversations with tea and cake, to begin this important discussion - what do you think about dying?  What happens if someone close to you dies?  Have you ever thought about it?  A safe, easy, jolly, serious, laid back, informal, whatever you want session with me and Gail, thinking about end of life matters, within our busy world and lives.

Place - No 18 Waterloo Square, Bognor Regis.  A community led venue, specialising in youth advice and help.  Also home to community arts organisation Fourfold Vision, who are supporting these end of life conversations in the community.

Come and chat, eat, discuss, ask questions, tell us your story, think, contribute, or stay silent the whole way through and run like blazes when it's over.  Whatever you like. All are welcome, disabled access. Email me for more details

Post script 

It is Easter Day.  Happy Easter to all of you.  I love you all.  Mwah.  I'm going to my mum's later to eat chocolates.

Sunday 13 April 2014

What Makes Your World Go Round?

What makes the world go around?  Indeed. I am not concerned with the science of it, I am asking about what keeps us going.  What keeps you going?  Big time?  What makes you say Ah!  I can do this!  I can get through!  What makes your world go around?

It depends on your starting point, I suppose.  Does your world need to be kept going round?  The assumption there is that it is not going round, or not going around enough, or the effort of keeping it going by yourself is too hard.  Or that your world has stopped turning completely.

It is also possible that your world is spinning quite fabulously, and when you get a moment, you think Yes!  I am in a good place, and x is the thing that is keeping my world turning, or y is the reason all is so good.  And, you may say to your friends, this x and y are universal, these are the things that keep everyone's world turning.  At times like these, it is wonderful to have the answer, and it is wonderful to understand how things are going so well, and the x and y make so much sense, and they are right.  It is true, it is very true, they are the things that are keeping your world going round, right now.

When something stops your world from turning quite so well, that is when your x and y no longer work.  For the moment.  It is possible that they are very good, and in time, they will work again.  When your world, for some reason, slows down, stops turning, or turns too fast, the very fact that you are in a difficult place means that the things that you thought were keeping your world turning, that x and y, have temporarily stopped working.

Here is what I think.  When your world is not going round, when it stops, and it becomes clear that things are wrong, when we are faced with things we would rather not face, when we are surprised by something unpleasant, so much so that we say that our world is no longer going round, one of our first reactions is to feel fear.  We didn't know this thing, these things, could happen.  We didn't see it coming, or we did see it coming, and it is worse than we imagined.  Our safety has gone.  We feel diminished.  Before our world was slowed down, we had substance, we were part of a good plan and we were players in that good plan of our lives.  When our world is no longer going round, we feel we are of no substance at all, and no longer in control, we realise that we are just a speck of dust, we revolve around the world, it does not revolve around us.  We are so small. And this is where we have to relearn.  What will make our world go around again?  When we feel our world has stopped, what do we do?  What do you do?  Do you remember?  Did you have a strategy for recovery, or did you react, like most of us do, into the fear and make things worse?  Did you lay down and say, it's all downhill from now, I cannot cope nor change anything, it is all over?  How did you manage?  Have you managed?

I have spoken to a couple of people about this subject this week.  It seems that the thing that makes the world start turning well again, is a decision.  A decision not to be consumed by the reasons one's world stopped turning. "I decided," said one lady, "that it would do me no good to carry on being so consumed by my distress.  I had to make a decision to stop.  My reactions to these events was harming myself and my children, I was not making anything any better.  It was hard and counter intuitive, but I made a decision to move on." The events in her life could not be changed, and the people concerned would not be affected by her distress, she had to do something about it herself in order to make her own world work again.  To be blunt, no one else particularly cared.  But she did it, and she talks about it now with a smile.

 The second person I spoke to about this was a man who is facing the reality of his cancer, his treatment, and his limits.  He told me that he has forced himself to sit with his fear. "I am frightened all the time," he says. "But I can cope with it if I sit and accept it, if I let myself look into my fear.  I can get through the day," he says, "because I am not just my fear, my fear is just a part of me, and I have not lost the other parts of me."  His decision was to face the thing that was threatening to overtake his life, in order to keep living with all the other things that were good but obliterated by the panic. "I made a decision," he said, "and today, I am OK".

When I am having a good time, all is going well, I will tell you that what makes my world go round is love, tea, cake, friends, lists, plans and being nice.

When I am faced with bad stuff, and I have thought about this recently, I will tell you that what makes my world go round, is me.  It is up to me.  Helped by friends, and kindness, helped by time and thinking things through, the main ingredient of my life going well, is me.

Perhaps then, what makes your world go around, truly, is you.  All the other things that help to make your world go round are still there, and are of great value, but they cannot do the job for you.  I will leave you with the image, light hearted but possibly relevant, of the Kick Ass Angel.  We all need a bit of her.

Kick Ass Angel is no slouch.  Painted by me for me, when I needed her.

Sunday 6 April 2014

A Sunday Off With Intent.


This is how my day began.

It is going to be one of those days, one of those Sundays, where with the best will in the world, nothing happens and that is the whole point.  I had treated myself to a morning in bed this morning, with some tea and my laptop on which to watch One Born Every Minute, when in comes Giant Boy.  It is always lovely to see Giant Boy, but 10 am is very early, and my first thought is, how do I get out of this?  He, bless his heart, is not one to enter quietly and get on with some reading.  He isn't one to come in and sit passively on the bed and wait till I notice him.  He came in wet, from the shower, all 6' 6" of him, with only a small towel on, and lay full length across my bed, beaming at me.  This was the least disturbing of the videos he took with my phone. 

These days Giant Boy is inspired.  Inspired by MMA, Mixed Martial Arts, and being a kind of home loving fellow, his new moves are practised with mind boggling results on his mother.  He sees me coming to give him a hug as an attack, he tells me.  Very often I end up in a headlock or hugging him with my arms and legs immobilised so that I can't get away without tapping three times on his arm.  Fine, I say, it's all youthful enthusiasm, I can handle it, but usually I am on my feet, dressed, and able to assert myself if I need to.  You can understand and forgive then, that after the joy of seeing him this morning, my first thought was Where are my escape routes.

Middle Bit

Ready for our first Conversations with Gail and Tami. Gail's funeral top hat sits in the middle, which we didn't use in the end, we all couldn't stop talking long enough, so we left it as an enigmatic decoration in the middle of the floor.
This time last week, I was getting ready to go up to do the first of the Conversations about End of Life within our Busy World, with Gail Martin Stevens and Tami Peel from Elizabeth Way Funeral Service up in Mossley, Lancashire.  We had done what thinking we needed to do together, and had realised that we needed to see how it went, and take our cues from whoever came along.  We had a plan, Plan A, in which we worked out what we would do, but we were happy to revert to Plan B, working together to go with the flow.  Gail provided tea and cakes, and the Seraphina Centre hosted us.  Our first session was attended by some very experienced and articulate ladies, all of whom knew of Gail and all of whom made this session memorable and inspiring.  Of course as soon as they started to arrive, plan A went out of the window, and we reverted to plan B, which is really what we expected to do all along.  We realised at the end of our two hours, how fast the time goes and how much we need to talk these things over.  One of our ladies is a cancer sufferer, and made good observations from her perspective.  One lady is a carer, and talked of how her colleagues avoid going in to work with people who are called "terminals", and one lady lost her son last year, and has set up a charity to help those with mental health issues - her son suffered from bi-polar.  

I will now host a similar session here in Bognor, and Gail will travel down to join me to do it.  Our plan is to do more sessions. Our vision is not to train anyone, but to lead conversations.  We aim to do nothing more than guide people to do what they already know, and to help to think more clearly about end of life issues.  If you think Gail and I can do one in your area, let me know.  

Post Conclusion Build Up

Today, I must admit, I am off.  Off work, off cooking, off with the fairies.  I have discovered perfect joy in watching re runs of One Born Every Minute, all the more wonderful because it is no longer anything to do with me - I have found that going up to bed is the whole point of the day, and I have realised that my boys, of 17 and 20, won't die if I don't make them food.  They will complain, they will try and look like the cat with the big eyes in Shrek, they will then make the food and make the kitchen look like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, but they won't die, and I can still go to bed.  I like this.  I have found that if I cannot think two clear thoughts, it is not a problem, because today, I don't have to.  All I have to do, is think about how to make myself happy every ten minutes, and then do it.  Eileen is with me this weekend, and she agrees.  We are both supporting each other in doing nothing and both happy to fill up any gaps in our psyche with eating pasta and veggie bakes.  

Powerful Conclusion.

I love my old Dad, he is witty, academic, clever and has funny eyes.  When I was a little girl, I was very proud of my Dad's funny eyes, I thought that he was the best because you never knew who he was looking at, and that seemed to me, very advanced.  Dad has had a few strokes and now had memory problems.  He is still very amusing and witty about it, and knows that he doesn't remember on occasion, for example, my name but I always had a special bond with him.  In this photo, he is giving expression to how I feel today, and as we look very similar, you really have no real proof that this isn't me giving expression to how Dad feels.  Rock on, Dad, tell them how it is.

The Aged P with whom I relate in so many ways.  His expression here is how my soul feels.  Thanks Dad.  Rock on.

Thursday 3 April 2014

Guest Blog on Old Age, by Alan Bedford

I am really delighted to offer a guest blog by Alan Bedford.  The subject this week is old age, or getting older but not feeling old.  Alan writes again, of something that none of us can escape.  Of getting older, of noticing that the years are passing despite us, and we have no choice but to go along with it.  Over to you Alan, and thank you.

I Am Not Old, But Getting Older by Alan Bedford.

I am not old, but like everyone from day one I am getting older.  I am not housebound, but the joints ache more. I am not past it, or I wouldn’t have had the beautiful youngster Antonia Rolls on my arm for most of the last 6 years.  But I do get my state pension- or would if I hadn’t deferred it. (A great deal folks, you get it later with 10% interest!). I am retired, but work most of the time.  I no longer play American football or soccer, but still play pretty serious tennis, and can dance all evening. If I live as long as my Dad I only have 6 years left, but 35 years if I make it to 100.

Alan as a baby at his christening in 1948

So getting old is a process, not something you suddenly become. Why have I decided to write this? A couple of weeks ago I was crossing the road, when a white van man stopped to allow me to cross. It hit me that he must have thought me old and in need of special politeness and time. I almost sprinted to prove him wrong! It made me think though, so here are my thoughts.

It is of course true that I am old-er now. I have the delights of a third off off-peak rail travel, and could have a bus pass if I ever got on a bus – and I feel really pleased when  the chemist tells me I don’t  have to pay for prescriptions, or I can get a senior ticket at  the cinema!  But it’s not all good news, I start to notice in the papers that famous people are dying at my age or close. I wonder how long I have left to benefit the peace and comfort I think I deserve after working flat out all my life. And one day when I go to the doctor with the next of my paranoid fears of something dire, it WILL be something dire.

There are quite a few ‘buts’ in this piece, so here’s another one. But why am I worrying? My arthritic knee has miraculously got better and I can play tennis for hours. I’m off for a tennis coaching holiday in Crete soon, having won the best man cup the last time I went at 63! I am still in demand at work. Antonia is not embarrassed dancing with me. And I can afford most of what I want- so what’s the problem? I suppose it’s because despite the power of positive thinking and looking on the bright side, it’s undoubtedly the case that I have less time til I draw my last breath than I have had so far, and it MIGHT not be long- something I really don’t fancy at all!

I wonder what it’s like to actually die?  What it feels like, whether you feel ok going, or you fight like mad to stay alive?   And what those closest to you think and feel? Will they be ok? I am hoping we have a laugh and, knowing that I am on my way, my son makes fun of my grumpiness as always and I do it even more for fun,  and we have the family sports joke about ‘there’s always next season’. 

Alan , in his forties, playing American football 

I think I can handle that bit. It’s the bit before- like getting more and more ill, hurting, and finding out there’s nothing that can be done that I might struggle with. Through most of my adult life I have defined myself though sport- by getting in the soccer first team, and being top goal scorer, or on the starting line-up for my club and country at American football, or holding my own at tennis with players 40 years younger. What will I be without sport? What will it be like if I am not the CEO or club chairman or decently paid consultant, but the dependent old chap needing dressing or even feeding, and with tubes stuck in un-mentionable places? And have to be taken out for rides rather than get in my big black leather seated saloon and go wherever I want when I want.

Actually, I don’t  think about it much- although it does cross my mind when I can’t put my right sock on without a gadget, or have  the annual prostate screening test, or the other screenings I get offered as I get older. Or policemen and women do indeed look ridiculously young, and rather old people don’t remember the 60s which I remember every day of. (I must have been drug free then if I can remember!)  In the meantime, I will keep writing serious case reviews if asked to. I will play tennis 2-3 times a week. I will travel. I will still think that I am a teenager with the same dreams that I will one day play soccer and cricket for England. I will still be seen around with the  young artist extraordinaire,  and still show my son and nephew that  I’ve still got it when I run American football passing routes in the back garden. 

But I will be taking more pills than I used to, will be using the sock gadget and taking longer to stand up  straight after a day at the desk,  will be watching my ‘5 a day’, and popping off for the screening tests.  On a bad day I might wonder how many would turn up at my funeral if I just keeled over the next time I go for that impossible return on the tennis court. At nearly every funeral I go to I say ‘I can’t imagine I’ll get a turn out like this’.

Maybe that’s it – we all want to be remembered, so I had better make the most of what’s left to make sure I am ! .

Alan today, in his glory.  (I wrote that)