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York Festival to confront dying matters

Posted on 6 May 2014

Artistic, cultural and medical perspectives on death and bereavement will be explored in a week-long festival organised by the University of York in a bid to encourage more people to confront end-of-life issues.


‘Before I Die – a Festival for the Living About Dying’, will combine poetry, music and theatre with death cafés, practical workshops, thought-provoking public lectures and expert panels, all designed to encourage open discussion about death, dying and bereavement.  Most events are free.

Professor Celia Kitzinger, from the Department of Sociology at York, will curate the festival which runs from 11 to 17 May. It is the first festival of its type and scale in York and is part of a series of events across the UK to mark Dying Awareness Week, organised by the National Council for Palliative Care ‘Dying Matters’ Coalition.

Professor Kitzinger said: “Death is often a taboo subject which many people are reluctant to discuss, but through my research and as a result of experiences within my own family, I have become convinced that we urgently need to talk about end-of- life issues as individuals and as a society.

“The festival combines thought-provoking perspectives on death, but we also aim to provide opportunities for people to think about their wishes for their own end-of-life and advise on how to make sure these choices are documented and made clear to relatives and medical staff.”

Professor Kitzinger, co-director of the York-Cardiff Chronic Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre, has carried out a study exploring the experiences of families with loved ones in a long-term coma. Her sister Polly is severely brain injured following a car accident.

Festival highlights include:

  • Death cafés (12,13,14 May, Friargate Quaker Meeting House, York). A chance to discuss attitudes and questions about death in a welcoming environment over tea and cakes. The cafés will be led by a range of experts including University of York researchers, clinicians, a palliative care specialist and the founder of an alternative funeral business
  • Should we legalise assisted dying? (12 May, Research Centre for the Social Sciences, University of York) Leading experts, including those with family and professional experience of end-of life-care, discuss their views with members of the public
  • Planning an alternative funeral (13 May, Friargate Quaker Meeting House, York) Learn about the choices available including non-traditional coffins (from woollen to wicker), shrouds, humanist celebrants and green burial sites
  • A Good Death? (13 May, Research Centre for the Social Sciences, University of York)  Experts led by the chaplaincy team at the University will explore what a ‘good death’ means in a morally and religiously pluralistic society
  • Food and Death (14 May, Research Centre for the Social Sciences, University of York) Food historians discuss the celebratory foods used to commemorate the dead, including Yorkshire funeral biscuits and buns (with free samples)
  • Music and Poetry to Die For (15 May, National Centre for Early Music, St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, York) Songs and poetry reflecting the emotions around dying
  • Advance Decisions and End-of-Life Planning (16 May, Berrick Saul Lecture Room, University of York) Do you know what medical treatments you would refuse if you were unable to make your own choices (e.g. because you were unconscious?) An expert panel explains the legal, ethical and practical issues.

The Festival also includes a guided tour of memorials in York Minster, a talk by a coroner about his work, an event on organ donation and a session offering specialist advice on Wills and Lasting Power of Attorney.

Further details are available on the festival website

Further information:

  • The York Festival follows the first ‘Before I Die’ Festival held at Cardiff University last year, curated by Professor Jenny Kitzinger, Celia Kitzinger’s sister.
  • The York-Cardiff Chronic Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre explores the social and ethical challenges of the vegetative and minimally conscious states. It is part-funded by the University of York’s Centre for Chronic Diseases and Disorders (C2D2). C2D2 is funded by the Wellcome Trust to coordinate and maximise the impact of research into alleviating the world-wide burden of chronic diseases and disorders.  Find out more
  • Find out more about Dying Awareness Week nationally

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