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To Absent Friends - A festival to remember

Next week, Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief launches the eighth annual To Absent Friends festival. Heralded as a ‘people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance’ the festival takes place from 1-7 November across Scotland - online, in public spaces and in people’s hearts and minds.

The festival, which started in 2014, is a chance to remember loved ones who have died, through stories, celebrations and acts of reminiscence. Anyone can participate, in whatever way they choose.

“Loved ones who have died live on in our stories and memories,” says Rebecca Patterson of Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief, the alliance of organisations behind the festival. “But maybe we don’t always get the right moment to speak about them or share those stories with others. To Absent Friends is a chance to do that. We want people to have a chance to stop and take some time to share those stories – whether it’s just raising a glass, getting the old photo albums out, or something more formal.”

In the years before covid-19, the festival encompassed a wide variety of events, from concerts and poetry nights to woodland walks and tea parties. However, this year covid has made it tricky to plan public events and large get-togethers, so this year’s festival sees an innovative range of outside events, small gatherings and online meetups.

“Over the last 18 months, so much loss has been suffered by so many, and covid-19 has prevented people from getting their usual support from friends and family. This has made life really hard for people who are grieving. The To Absent Friends festival is an opportunity and an excuse for people to take a moment in their busy lives to remember people who have died, whether recently or long ago.” Says Mark Hazelwood, Chief Executive of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care.

Local communities from across Scotland are getting involved in the festival by planning their own events. In Portobello, Action Porty have organized Beach Bonfires where locals can share stories and memories, take part in creative remembrance activities, and warm themselves by the fire. In Fife, Lochgelly Brass Band plan to perform an outdoor concert and release a virtual performance of remembrance music, paying tribute to people who have died during the pandemic. Meanwhile, in Stonehaven Local Celebrant Fiona Beeley and community-based Feck Radio Productions are putting together a podcast, inviting people to dedicate a piece of music and a tribute to someone significant in their lives who has died.

“When I think back to my own father, the song that always comes to mind is If I Ruled the World by Harry Secombe.” Says Fiona Beeley. “ It always reminds me of my Dad and what a joyful character he was. Through my work as a Funeral Celebrant, I see many people who are grieving, who still have a journey of grief to go on, and music is often a big part of that journey. So I wanted to put together this podcast to give people a chance to share some of those pieces of music and memories that are special to them.”

Festival events can be as big or as small, as public or as private, as people want them to be. Several Care Homes, including Stanely Park Residential Home and Mosswood Care Home in Paisley, and Ancaster House Care Home in Crieff, are organising small private gatherings for residents, staff and relatives to come together, listen to music and remember residents who have died during the pandemic.

“I think that that over the last 18 months, most of us have been craving human connection. And that is what this festival is about – connecting with each other over shared memories and stories. Perhaps this year, when it is hardest to organise a festival, it is more needed than ever before.” says Rebecca Patterson.

To Absent Friends is a reminder, an opportunity and an excuse to create time and space to remember the important people in our lives who have died. Festival organisers are inviting members of the public to get involved, even at short notice, from the comfort of their armchair.

We invite people to visit the festival website to share their memories on the online wall of remembrance, add songs to the Remembrance Playlist, or tweet #ToAbsentFriendss throughout the week. A full list of this year’s events is available here:

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