Creative projects assisting with grief during the pandemic
Irish Hospice Foundation has given grants to individuals and communities to find new ways to express and share loss
The making of the Galway Hospice Foundation project Meallan Scéal Scéal Eile, or One Story Encourages Another.
Much has already been said and written about how the loss of community rituals around death has made the process of grieving the loss of loved ones more difficult for so many people during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A new collaboration between the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) and Creative Ireland has given grants to individuals and communities to find new ways to express and share their grief to make the bereavement journey a little bit easier.
The projects range from Gaultier GAA club’s forthcoming mural of remembrance in Waterford city to raise spirits and commemorate those who have died to Maria Gasol’s illustrated book, created to explain the death of a grandfather, who died of Covid-19 in Spain, to new choral compositions for community choirs.
Hazel Greene, bereavement support services co-ordinator at the Galway Hospice Foundation, says many of us have been grieving behind closed doors, which prompted the organisation to ask people to share their experiences. The result is Meallan Scéal Scéal Eile, or One Story Encourages Another, a video with words, music and poetry made in Coole Park, near Gort, Co Galway.
“People sent us prose, poems and reflections of their feelings of powerlessness of not being with their loved ones as they were dying, or the feelings of emptiness during a funeral without family and friends to reach out to,” says Greene.
Some contributors spoke about being frozen in time without the meaningful human engagement or holding space that’s usually there for us when a loved one dies. Others said being involved in the project was comforting and cathartic and gave them a way to honour the person they lost. “There is a lot of unexpressed grief and we hope this will support people whose grief was denied,” says Greene.
Chris Hayes from HedgeRadio podcast in Wexford invited local people to share their stories around the loss of a loved one, which he has put together on his new website sayitfeelit.ie. “I was so aware that all the stuff that usually happens around death – from shaking hands with people at funerals to those who turn up with sandwiches and make the tea – was taken away, so I offered people the chance to have conversations about the person they lost,” says Hayes.
And while some of those who came forward didn’t want their conversations published, others did. One man, whose mother died of Covid-19 in a nursing home, spoke about how they had all their grief locked up in a box and how they were not sure how to process it. Another young man spoke about how he missed out on all the conversations with people who knew his mother in the decades before he was born.
Hayes says the conversations flowed easily, although they were tough interviews for him to do. “They illuminated the lives of the people who died and allowed people to reflect on their loss,” says Hayes, who also partook in the IHF workshops on handling grief in the creative process.
Dunshaughlin Choral Society, an amateur community choir, composed and recorded an original song to reflect the loss of loved ones in the Co Meath village. Róisín Freeney, a member of the choir, who lost her mother during the Covid-19 pandemic, says choir members were particularly keen to do something to express their feelings of loss when a choir member died in January.
“Normally, we’d come together and sing at his funeral and it was frustrating not to be able to sing our grief,” says Freeney. So choir members sent her emails about bereavement during Covid-19 and she and Suzanne Keegan pulled them together to write the song Absent Voices.
“We recorded it all individually from our homes. We had no idea what it was supposed to sound like. Doing this helped us put into words the emotions and experiences we have had over the last year,” says Freeney.
Musicians and arts and health practitioners, Sharon Murphy and Sadhbh O’Sullivan, ran weekly Facebook live musical sessions for older people over the past year as part of their social enterprise, Embrace Music. And out of this experience they have composed Murmurations, a song cycle which, according to Murphy, reflects on the depth of loss experienced by older people and documents a sad time in world history.
“We supported older people and community choirs throughout the pandemic and there were certain themes coming through – such as how people leaned into nature and sought solace in birdsong and nature,” she says.
The first piece in Murmurations is Blackbird’s Lament. Written by Sadhbh O’Sullivan, it is inspired both by the folk tradition of lament and people’s heightened awareness of birdsong during the pandemic. The second piece, The Dawning, is a piece for piano composed by Sharon Murphy. “It’s about the inherent loneliness of the grieving process during Covid,” says Murphy.
And the last piece Better Days to Come is, according to Murphy, “a modern take on songs that are capable of sustaining people during hard times”. With sheet music available for free, Murphy hopes that community choirs across the country will take the opportunity to sing it in the months and years ahead.
– The Irish Hospice Foundation’s Bereavement Support Line is freephone 1800 80 70 77. It is open from 10am-1pm, Monday-Friday. Support for Grieving in Exceptional Times is the IHF’s free bereavement support pack which includes advice on grieving and planning a funeral during Covid-19 and supporting bereaved children and young people during restrictions.