“Thanks for offering this — it’s something I didn’t expect but I recall how difficult it was around those issues when I lost my mum — we weren’t prepared and it was emotionally distressing. Hope it will be widely advertised and the issue taken out into the wider community.”
The ‘Before I Die…’ Tent at Lambeth Country Show
‘Before I Die…’ is a global art project that invites people to contemplate mortality and share their personal aspirations in public. After the death of someone she loved, Candy Chang went through a long period of grief and depression when she realised how much we avoid discussion of death.
She wanted to start a conversation, so she covered a crumbling house in her New Orleans neighbourhood with chalkboard paint and stencilled it with the prompt, “Before I die I want to _____” so anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on death and life, and share their personal aspirations in public.
By the next day, the wall was entirely filled out. Since then, over 1,000 Before I Die walls have been created in over 35 languages and over 70 countries.
The photograph above is one of more than 400 ‘dreams’ that were pinned to the ‘Before I Die’ wall at 2018’s Lambeth Country Show. The Show is one of the biggest free family festivals in the UK, and the ‘Before I Die…’ tent offers an important opportunity to have public conversations about living, dying and planning for the end of life.
The wall has quickly become a fixture of the Show, hosted by Lambeth Advance Care Planning Consortium in its ‘Before I Die…’ tent. Alongside the wall, we also create a display of items that feature in people’s advance statements with labels explaining their significance, and provide plenty of materials for people to browse and take away. Children’s craft activities enable adults in family groups to chat with us and we have even used a giant elephant puppet who roams about the showground, acting as an ice-breaker for conversations about death as ‘the elephant in the room’.
The tent is the flagship annual event for the consortium’s work to raise awareness and increase uptake of advance care planning in Lambeth. You can read more about our collaboration in Lambeth and the new local service we have just launched together in this previous blog.
Hosting the ‘Before I Die…’ tent at Lambeth Country Show provides a fantastic opportunity to reach out to communities who may not otherwise access our services. By offering a creative, informal way to start conversations about people’s values and ambitions for life and death, the tent sparks public conversations that are meaningful, sometimes surprising and often funny.
A virtual show this year
This year of course, the show has had to go virtual, because of the pandemic. So our tent is going virtual too! We’re planning information sessions on zoom, one-to-one consultations by phone with our trained volunteers, perhaps a quiz — and of course, a virtual ‘Before I Die…’ wall.
The reception of the physical tent has been overwhelmingly warm and positive:
“I stopped when I saw the tent and immediately felt moved. You’re talking about death and suffering completely out of context. You’re very brave to bring this out. We need to talk about this. My sister has MS and is isolated because others don’t want to hear her talk about her situation. People get bored with her — they don’t have patience with her. Death is scary and talking about it will make it less frightening.”
We often hear in our community engagement work that people gain huge peace of mind through talking, planning and recording their wishes for the end of life. When the people close to them know what they want at the end of their life, it creates the best possible chance of them getting the care that’s right for them.
We’ll let you know how our virtual conversations go at this year’s show.