Birmingham’s annual A Matter of Life and Death Festival returns this May with a host of events across the city. Aiming to encourage open and honest conversation about death and dying, the festival includes author talks, a remembrance get-together, a walking tour, an interactive tour of a cemetery and visit to one of the city’s leading museums, the chance to visit an undertakers’ premises plus Death Cafes and Death over Drinks events.
Organised by Birmingham-based community interest company BrumYODO, the award-winning A Matter of Life and Death Festival (May 2-16) is now in its seventh year – and continues to attract new audiences.
BrumYODO Board member Alison Cox says: “This year we have joined with lots of partners to bring a variety of events to Birmingham during A Matter of Life and Death. Some are fun, some are informative, some are about conversations, some are about sharing memories.
“But what they all have in common is providing a comfortable space for people to talk about death, dying, grief and bereavement. At BrumYODO we believe these are important conversations which help us normalise death, which is, of course, part of life.”
This year sees BrumYODO organising To Absent Friends, a small informal gathering in which people come together to tell and listen to stories of their loved ones over dinner. Diners bring an object or photo to help them share a memory and there will be a toast to absent friends. Taking place at The Junction in Harborne on May 3 at 7pm, To Absent Friends is free although guests order and pay for their own drinks.
Alison adds: “We often think about loved ones who have died, and talking about or even just naming someone can help us to feel connected to them. We are really looking forward to welcoming our guests, sharing a good meal together and hearing their stories.”
The festival also features Campo Santo – Discover more about death in the Jewellery Quarter with two special tours, a picnic and a ‘Death over Drinks’ discussion! The three-hour event includes an interactive audio tour in Warstone Lane Cemetery, picnic with food created by Birmingham-based chef and visual artist Alfredo Hau and an informal conversation over cake and hot drinks. This will be followed by a tour of the historic Stamp Shop at The Coffin Works Museum.
“During Campo Santo we will be comparing and contrasting the Victorian and 20th century histories of death, burials and memorials between Mexico and the UK,” says Sebas Hau of ITZATNA Arts. “Campo Santo follows the success of our sell-out Day of the Dead celebration last November and this new event will be both interesting and entertaining.”
Organised by ITZATNA Arts Collective, The Coffin Works Museum, Birmingham City Council Bereavement Services and BrumYODO, Campo Santo takes place on May 13 at 1pm.
Brummies are invited to take a step back in time with the Life and Death in Birmingham tour organised by Birmingham Heritage Walking Tours on May 7 at 11am. The walk will explore the city’s last public hanging, the Victorian Eye Hospital and Birmingham Cathedral, The Battle of Snow Hill Station and Birmingham’s Nuclear Bunker among other local places of interest.
Organiser Kevin Thomas says: “The Life and Death in Birmingham walking tour is an enlightening experience that helps us to recognize the preciousness of life. It takes us back through time to explore some of the historical relationships with Birmingham and how it has shaped our lives today. By recognising the inevitability of mortality, we can be reminded that life is fleeting and full of joy and enthusiasm.”
The Heath Bookshop in Kings Heath is hosting a series of author events including a discussion with Anna Lyons and Louise Winter, authors of We All Know How This Ends – lessons about life and living through working with death and dying on May 12 at 6pm.
On May 14 at 2pm, the shop hosts a reading and discussion with Hollie Starling, author of The Bleeding Tree, which examines grief and the healing power of nature and folklore. This is followed at 4.30pm by Helen Calcutt, whose poetry collection Somehow explores her grief at the death of her brother.
“We feel really privileged to have been asked to be part of BrumYODO’s A Matter of Life and Death Festival as we strongly agree with their perspective that talking openly about death and dying will help us prepare for dying and loss,” says The Heath Bookshop co-owner Catherine Gale.
And co-owner Claire Dawes adds: “Our shop has a calm and relaxing atmosphere and so it is a really nice space for the four wonderful authors to come and talk about their books. We are very much looking forward to welcoming people to the shop for the events during the festival.”
Kings Heath undertakers A Natural Undertaking will be holding an open evening at their premises on May 10 at 7pm. The event will give visitors a chance to discover how undertakers help, to hear stories of inspirational funerals and to ask questions.
Carrie Weekes, co-owner of A Natural Undertaking, says: “It’s a business that we don’t really think about until we have to. Nor do we really want to. However, knowing what the role of an undertaker is can make planning a funeral a more positive and empowering experience which can lead to a more healthy grief. We hope people will come along and find out more.”
Death over Drinks gives people the chance to learn about the legal elements surrounding death. Taking place at Anjuna Lounge in Stirchley on May 4 at 6.30pm, places are free but refreshments are additional.
There will also be a series of Death Cafes in which people are invited to chat about death and dying over tea and cake. These take place at venues including Brandwood End Cemetery on 10 May at 5pm and at The Heath Bookshop on May 16 at 7pm. Plus keep an eye on the Events page of the website for additional activities.
A Matter of Life and Death coincides with national Dying Matters Awareness Week, May 8-14. Some A Matter of Life and Death events are chargeable but all need to be booked due to limited capacity – click here for more information and booking links.