Sunday 21 September 2014

Sparkly Send Offs. A Best Seller.

It is very late, and getting later.  Sounds like the title of a book I may write or a film I may make, considering what I do.  End of life and stuff.  What I mean is that it is already late on Sunday night, and I have not written to you all for two weeks.  You may be sitting in the dark somewhere, crying, wondering what did you do to make me stop writing.  You may not.  You may have forgotten you ever read a blog by me, and be planning a wonderful day out with really interesting people.  It is very late tonight, nearly 10pm, and I am only just beginning to write.

I have been thinking.  This Summer has changed things in my little world.  I finally faced up to the difficulties with my son, and saw how long things have been very, very bad.  I saw wilful avoidance on my part.  I hope there is a good ending to this story, but at the moment, I have no part in it, and do not, cannot, make things better.  I am, I accept, powerless.

My brother Dominic agreed to be the last person to be painted and interviewed for the A Graceful Death exhibition, and with very mixed feelings, I have tried to start that painting.  We have had one interview, and will have another soon, and I have been avoiding having to paint him.  When I look at Dominic, I see myself.  And, funnily enough, I see our other two brothers too, and Dom's face becomes a mixture of all of us, Ralph, John, Dominic and me.  We are all there, when I look at Dom, and I am struck by my own mortality.  Dominic is living with advanced cancer, and working hard to defeat it.  He may well do so, we don't know.  But as you all know, who have had any dealings with life limiting illness, everything changes forever.  And of course, paradoxically,the same life goes on regardless, without a backward look.

It has been very difficult to know what to do recently.  My head has been both full of worry and empty of solutions.  I almost shut up the studio, put on a false moustache, changed my name to Miguel, and pretended to be someone else.  That would have been easier than being here I thought, in Bognor, with a Studio I wasn't using, a mind that was full of sawdust and nonsense, with difficulties at home, and a growing sense of sadness with the world.

What this all boils down to, my dear friends, is that one part of my work is coming to an end, and another is beginning.  I say this now, though even a week ago, it was not so clear.  This kind of thing is seldom linear, logical and efficient and so I met first with a brick wall.  In dealing with this brick wall, I found eventually, that there were ways round it, and that it wasn't as tough and final as it seemed at first.  I spent much time sitting down and gazing stupidly at it, believing that it was as big and alarming as it looked, until ways to get up and tackle it began to present themselves.  Things are much better now, and I believe I have made my decisions.  Here they are.

  • I will write the blog once a month, not once a week.   This will keep you on a knife edge.  What is happening in Bognor?  you will say, and no one will know.  You will have to wait for the beginning of every month to find out.  This will be good for you.  You will learn patience.  And I will practice perseverance.  That will be good for me.  Win win.

  • I will start my book.  We all have a book in us, I have one that has struggled to find form for years, and with the working title "Sparkly Send Offs" I think I am onto a winner.  It combines the end of life with being a fairy and this working title gives me immense joy.  It is completely ridiculous, and we can thank my dear friend Sarah Weller, Sound Therapist extraordinaire, for coming up with it.   Complete nonsense.  Wonderful.

  • The Conversations project is the way forward.  I have been holding two hourly sessions in the community for anyone to come and talk about any part of the end of life that is on their mind.  There is, as always, tea and cake, and a gentle and open forum for discussions on end of life matters.  The last one held at the Salvation Army Community Hub this week, covered atheism, suffering, laughter, and euthanasia.  The idea is so simple.  "Finding time to think in our busy worlds" is the strap line on the posters.

  • The A Graceful Death exhibition needs a permanent home.  It is now time to set it up properly and permanently somewhere where it can be accessed by those that want to come and see it, respond to it, and meet the people who have left us their images and their words about how they are doing their dying.  Or living.  Some are still with us, some are not.  The one thing they all have in common is that while we are painting and interviewing them, they are living and living with full intent.  It's time that it was set up, all 52 paintings, the films, videos, the music, poetry and essays, all of it ready made so that it could be used to help us start to think of and believe, our own mortality.  There will be no more paintings after Dom. If AGD now has a place to stay, for however long, it would work very well.  I am open to ideas.  Probably somewhere near me now, in Bognor, so that I can maintain it.  It can still travel. I love the idea of having a van with the A Graceful Death logo on it, as it travels the length and breadth of the country, full of paintings of dead and dying people, being avoided on the motorways as people would do anything rather than follow behind, overtake or have anything to do with a van full of things about dying.

  • Dominic's portrait is the last painting that I will do for A Graceful Death.  I will be finishing this part of the project with a beautiful painting of my youngest brother.  There is talk of making a small film of Dom as a finale to the creative and expressive work that has been the A Graceful Death exhibition and project.  I hope that we do this, Dominic's experience and his ways of keeping himself going, are very valuable for when we may need such advice.  We all will need some preparation.  We are all one day, going to be finding ways to try to die well.

There is something else I have been made aware of.  I, we, all of us, need to express.  Creativity is a most glorious tool for us to use when we are feeling low.  It is counter intuitive, the last thing you feel like doing when you are moping into your twenty ninth pot noodle in your smelly old pyjamas and not answering your phone to anyone, under the sofa in the sitting room for the fourth day in a row, the last thing you feel like doing is to doodle.  Write.  Play the piano.  Make something.  Paint something.  Arrange some flowers.  Cook something.  The very last thing you think of, would be to express what is in you now.  But, it does something to the grip your sour, insular mood has on you.  Not expressing yourself is a sure way to remain under the sofa.  

A Graceful Death Dates

Having said I'm looking for a permanent home for the exhibition, I'm now going to tell you how it won't be around in it's new permanent home on these dates.  It will be temporarily impermanent.

Sunday 28 September AGD will be at the following from 3pm to 5pm.  Come and see me there, I'll be with a section of the exhibition in the actual Church.  

All Saints Hall, Ascot SL5 8DQ
Saturday September 27th (10 to 5) £10 I'll be doing a pop up talk at about midday here
 & Sunday September 28th (3 to 5) £5  I'll be in the church with AGD here.
in a time of TRANSITION
BOOKING & details   01344 621167

Thursday 30 October to Sunday 2 November 2014

 AGD will be a the Elephant in the Room event at the Swansea YMCA. 

The Elephant In The Room is a four-day event to be held in Swansea from 30th October through to the 2nd November. The centre-piece of which will be the hugely successful, and much talked about, art exhibition “A Graceful Death” by Antonia Rolls. 

Alongside the exhibition we will also be presenting a programme of talks and workshops, together with evening performances of the funny and moving play, “Colder Than Here”, written by award winning playwright, Laura Wade, as well as an opening musical concert on the Thursday evening.
There will also be a number of exhibition stands relating to the theme of the event.

It is our intention, through The Elephant In The Room, to bring, what is often a taboo subject, out into the open, stimulating awareness and encouraging discussion around the subject of death and dying. Through the talks and workshops we plan to cover a range of areas, including end of life care and support, funeral planning, the approach to death in different cultures and faiths, planning and writing of Advance Decisions and Wills, being prepared, the options available at the end of life and awareness of choice, and much more. We will also have question and answer sessions with a panel of experts in their own related fields.

Apart from the theatre and musical performances, entrance to the exhibition and all talks and workshops will be free. Refreshments will be available throughout the days in exchange for donations.

The programme of talks will run from 12 noon until 4.30 pm on Friday 31st October and from 11.00 am until 4.30 pm on Saturday and Sunday November 1st & 2nd. 

All the proceeds from the event are going to fund the work of The Centre in Swansea, in providing free complementary therapy treatments and support to those living with cancer and other life-limiting conditions, and also to support Antonia Rolls and her “Graceful Death” work.
We hope you are able to join us for what promises to be a wonderful event.

Saturday 28 March 2015

AGD will be at the Dying to Know event in Bournemouth

It is nearly midnight now.  Time to go to bed.  Life goes on, and tomorrow is another day.  The next blog will be in October and in the meantime, I will start Dominic's portrait, and find an opening sentence for Sparkly Send Offs. I do remember a few years ago, come to think of it, a lady in her seventies watching over her daughter in her forties who was dying of breast cancer.  As the daughter entered her final few days, the old mother hung fairy lights all around her room and turned off the lights, it was magical and wonderful.  Perhaps that is the true Sparkly Send Off.

Sunday 7 September 2014

Conversations on the End of Life, Father Dominic and a Marmite Sandwich.

I will not keep you long this week.  You will only have time to sit down and eat half a marmite sandwich, before you have read it all, so be prepared.

This week's tragedies

  • I broke my best little teapot in the sink.  I have another, but the tea cannot taste the same.  It is hard to believe my little teatime friend is no longer with me.  I have lurched to the other small teapot in a state of heartbroken resignation, but we are not used to each other and this relationship will take time.  It is good to know that if this teapot too is taken away from me, I have a third and final small teapot and take comfort from knowing that even if I do suffer another loss, it is only a traumatic emotional loss.  On a practical level, I will still actually have my tea.

This week's triumphs

  • I began my role at the Hospice as a Companion, sitting with people who need someone with them.  I am grateful to the people I sit with.  Thank you.

This week's surprises

  • Giant Boy is jolly.  He has everything to live for, he has a new girlfriend who doesn't seem fazed by his eccentricities. It seems, and it is early days, that she has not noticed them.  It seems, and I am impressed if this is true, that she simply accepts them all.  Giant boy is chirpy and has played her some Debussy (loudly) on the piano, and has not taught her much MMA.  I think he would rather gaze into her eyes and he can't do that if he has her in a headlock.   

This week's plans

  • Organising the next Conversations (Conversations on the End of Life, Finding Time to Think in our Busy Worlds). These Conversations are simple and effective.  I am very happy to see where they go, and how they pan out, the joy of them is that they can go anywhere that is necessary.  Here is the poster for my next one, come along and see us

Other plans for this week are to finish God's Kitchen, a painting of God's Kitchen as God has just popped out to answer the phone.  This is what I think we would see if we passed by and glanced in;  and I aim to start the last painting for the A Graceful Death exhibition, of my brother Dominic.  Dominic is living with serious cancer and is enduring the treatment  that goes along with it.  Dominic is a Catholic Priest, and has a wonderful, simple and articulate way of talking about this disease that has struck him seemingly out of nowhere, at the age of 51.  I have been avoiding having to deal with this painting, but now I feel I am able to do it.  When I see Dominic, I see myself.  I will see what happens when I do it, I will see where it takes me.

Things I did not think I would say

  • I might go for a run.  I might.  Ten years ago this year, in 2004, I completed the London Marathon running for the Samaritans.  Good Lord, I am still recovering.  I did enjoy most of the day.  It is true, the atmosphere really does carry you through.  People lined the route and if you wrote your name on your hat as I did, they all call your name.  Everyone loves me!  You think, They know me! until they start calling your name wrong and you realise the rain is making the tippex name on your hat melt.  One of my memories is the kindness of people trying to feed you as you went round, handing chocolate bars, sweets, biscuits to the runners as they passed.  I passed one lady in the Isle of Dogs who had set up a trestle table with bread and margarine and marmite, and was trying to help the runners with chunky sandwiches.  You would have to stop, eat the sandwiches and then lie down to digest them, so no one was stopping.  Lovely idea though.  Back to this week;  if I do go on a run, I will take my own marmite sandwiches just for old time's sake. 

Things I did think I would say 

  • It is time to bring the A Graceful Death exhibition to Bognor or Chichester.  And it is time to find a place to show it permanently, time to bring it home. I am looking for a place to set it up so that it is ready for viewing for the general public permanently.  It has a serious place in the awareness raising of end of life matters, with 52 paintings, poetry, videos, interviews, essays, memories and books in which to write.  It helps people talk about what has happened in their lives, what is happening in their lives, and what is to come.  It has inspired people to find out more about what they can do for themselves, and for others, around dying in their families and communities.  

And so, to end, a photo of Father Dominic, my youngest brother.  I will be working on Dominic from a selection of images, so if I don't get it right, you can tell me so.

Dom has a pic line attached to a kind of plastic ball filled with chemotherapy medicines, the ball is kept in his pocket.  I will paint him with the ball visible.