People across Scotland will be paying tribute To Absent Friends this week, as the people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance returns for a fifth year from 1 – 7 November.
The To Absent Friends festival, started in 2014, gives people across Scotland the opportunity to remember loved ones who have died, through stories, celebrations and acts of reminiscence. It is open to anyone to participate, in whatever way they choose.
Events in store this year include concerts by the Edinburgh Brass Band, Edinburgh Singers, and Vox Coelestis, a reprise of spoken word show The 900 Club (well reviewed on these pages during the Fringe) at the Project Cafe in Glasgow, a poetry evening hosted by Poetry Circus (run by our own Max Scratchmann) and a remembrance café held at the Scottish Poetry Library.
One of the people organising an event for To Absent Friends is Lara Celini, who is holding a community ceilidh and reminiscence café in Willowbrae, Edinburgh. She has her own personal story to tell:
“My best friend died ten years ago. We’d just spent a wonderful new year together in rural Perthshire. She had so much to look forward to, and we had so many plans, and then she went for a walk and never came back. Bad luck and bad weather resulted in her getting lost in snowy woodland in falling light and she died of hypothermia. It was a stark reminder that death is not always expected, and when it happens we are forced to deal with it. We can make it a little bit more bearable by talking about it and supporting each other, because the people we love remain part of our lives, their stories are our stories, and they live on in our memories and in all the experiences we’ve shared.”
She hopes the ceilidh and reminiscence cafe will appeal to people of all ages and backgrounds.
“There will be quiet space to reflect and chat over tea and cake, but also space to dance and enjoy some ceilidh music, so hopefully something for everyone. The idea is to bring people together, to open-up conversations, and to make it easier for people to talk about death and the people in their lives who have died.”
The festival website, www.toabsentfriends.org.uk, offers plenty of suggestions for how people can get involved.
One idea is the To Absent Friends supper, a gathering of friends or family over food to remember and tell stories of people who have died. Another suggestion is for workplaces and community groups to start a To Absent Friends wall. All it needs is some triangles of coloured paper, some pens and an empty noticeboard. People write a tribute to an absent friend and pin it up, until the wall is filled with memories.
The festival welcomes anyone who wants to do something – whether it is a large event or a small personal remembrance. There’s no permission needed to take part, but people can contact Good Life Good Death Good Grief for more information and to publicise their events on the festival website.
(Disclosure: The Wee Review Editor Robert Peacock works for Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief, the charity-led alliance behind the To Absent Friends festival. Some Wee Review writers are participating in events.)