This Is How You Start A Conversation No One Wants To Talk About. Life. Death. Whatever.

Being FEARLESS isn’t being 100% Not FEARFUL, it’s being terrified, but you jump anyway.
— Taylor Swift

How do you change the conversation around a subject that no one wants to talk about?

You could try to force people to engage in conversations, but that rarely works.

You could pretend that it is something completely different. Then "slip in" the topic you want to discuss. No good. People do not like to feel hoodwinked or conned.

Of course, you could ignore the situation about addressing subjects that are challenging. (Many do.)

Alternatively, you could find a new approach. Try a creative and surprising angle and then shape opportunities for conversations to begin. That is exactly what the team behind Life. Death. Whatever. are doing during October in London.

In collaboration with the National Trust’s Sutton House in Hackney, London, Louise Winter and end-of-life doula Anna Lyons have created a month-long series of workshops, art exhibitions, and original events. They are engaging with people on life, death and just about everything in between.  

It takes vision and vast reserves of intestinal fortitude to jump into the unknown! I attended a pre-launch event this week. I was able to observe that Louise and Anna have created a unique, eclectic and culture changing event.

How will people respond to this? Will anybody turn up? Will it alter the conversation about death and dying?  

Answers:

  • Positively and negatively. 
  • Certainly. 
  • And without a shadow of a doubt, yes.

Who Likes Talking About Dying?

Nobody likes talking about dying. Woody Allen said, “I'm not afraid of death; I just don't want to be there when it happens.”  For many, even the conversation around death and dying is the same. They don't want to be there when it happens.  

Sutton House is the oldest residence in East London. As you walk around its impressive rooms, historic interiors, and climb down rickety steps to an Edwardian chapel, your senses, and beliefs around death and dying are flooded and challenged with provoking art installations.  

What Is Happening At Life. Death. Whatever?

There is a month-long lineup of events. Jon Underwood, the founder of the Death Cafe movement, is speaking about the role of death in making the world a better place. There are nights of storytelling and music in candlelit rooms sipping wonderfully created cocktails. There are special poetry evenings. Interesting films and educational presentations will be covering many aspects of the journey towards our ultimate destination. There are some we might expect. Some we will have not even considered in our wildest imaginations. As Louise and Anna say, "expect the unexpected!"

Take A Risk!

People who are willing to take risks inspire me. I am not talking about white knuckle adrenaline escapades. Though I quite enjoy those myself. When someone has a vision and then takes action on that dream, it takes guts. I am sure that there have been some late nights. Even sleepless nights planning this event. Kudos to you all. "Fortune favours the brave." You are inspiring a generation to discuss a critical life appointment that will inevitably reach us all. 

Being brave.
Being willing to take risks.
Being terrified but still jumping regardless, you are helping families deal with the inevitability of loss and preparing them for the event.  

That is culture changing.

If you have the opportunity during October, take some time to visit Sutton House. It will perhaps shock and surprise you, make you laugh, make you cry and challenge you. One thing is sure. What it will do is leaving you talking about death and dying.  

And that is a good thing.


Peter Billingham writes, speaks and podcasts on practical ideas and digital trends in the funeral industry and end of life planning. If you would like to book Peter for your next conference or workshop please visit his speaking page to find out more information or to contact him for availability. 

Here is what people say about Peter as a speaker.

Peter Billingham attended our Conference on Death, Dying and Social Work held at the University of Sussex on 6 September 2016. From the start of our contact with him, he was extremely professional and even supported the marketing of the Conference via social media. As an academic with a research interest in social media and digital practices, I was delighted to receive Peter’s presentation abstract on digital immortality as this was the only paper on what is a vital area in the study of death and dying. I attended Peter’s presentation at the Conference itself which was thought provoking and well delivered, utilising highly evocative slides and combining storytelling, theory and humour to capture audience interest. After the presentation, feedback to me was extremely positive with the endemic remark ‘ He was really good.’ In my view, Peter is doing very important work in alerting academic audiences to the challenges and opportunities raised by digital practices both in life and after death.
— Dr Denise Turner Course Lead BA Wellbeing & Social Care Lecturer in Social Work School of Education and Social Work University of Sussex