Doctoral Student Anais Duong-Pedica writes about the Before I Die festival:
'This year will mark the 7th national Dying Matters Awareness Week. This week of events, initially founded by the National Council for Palliative Care, is an opportunity to initiate discussions about death, dying and bereavement at a local and national level. The events put in place aim to change public knowledge, attitudes and behaviours towards death and dying as well as making good deaths more accessible to people.
Dying Matter Awareness Week will take place May 9th-15th in England and Wales. For this occasion, the University of York will contribute to the conversation with its own weekend of events: The Before I Die Festival. The festival takes place on the weekend of May 7th-8th and gathers a dozen of events at York, which focus on death. A few members of the department will be contributing to these discussions. Our very own Ruth Penfold-Mounce will be talking about Celebrity Death and Public Grieving – a topic particularly relevant this year since the recent deaths of Alan Rickman, David Bowie, and more recently, Prince. Meanwhile Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson will be leading a session on the end of life planning tool - Advance Decisions and I will be holding a discussion on Dying and Grieving in the Age of Social Media.
In this one-hour session, I wish to start a dialogue on what it means to die and grieve online today. This will be a space where personal experiences will be welcomed and encouraged. We will be exploring different aspects of death and grief, specifically on social media, from the perspective of the individual who is dying/dies, but also from the perspective of close friends, family and acquaintances. I hope to raise awareness of crucial discussions that people ought to have about their death or the death of loved ones and social media: What would I like my account(s) to become? What types of grieving am I comfortable with people doing online? How do social media accounts remind us of the dead and how does that impact our grieving? How do we navigate discomfort with the way other people grieve online? And even, how do we experience grieving for people we only know online?
Not only does the Before I Die Festival play a major role in creating conversations around issues related to death, dying and bereavement and normalising good deaths, it also locates itself within an environment of growing interest for death research. The University of York is home to the Centre for Modern’s Studies’ Death Network and Cemetery Research Group led by Julie Rugg (Department of Social Policy and Social Work). Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Jack Denham and myself (Department of Sociology) also organised a well-attended symposium on Marginal Death Research last October and Ruth Penfold-Mounce, Jack Denham and Julie Rugg will be holding the three-day Death and Culture conference in September this year.
You can support Dying Matters Awareness Week by sharing the programme on Twitter, visiting the Dying Matters website, and by going along to some of the events. We also encourage everyone to have “the Big Conversation” – talk with friends and family about your own death and the importance of preparing for it.'