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A language to be learned

Using art to give people permission to talk about death

Photo of Melanie Sims
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The poem below was written by Mark Halliday (part of a set of five) to accompany my project The Memorandum Series – a set of photographic works expressing my grief process after my mother died.

What I’ve found through exhibiting art that tackles death is that it gives people permission to talk about it. Creating a place – even a temporary one – where death is the subject allows people to speak about their experiences, anxieties, fears.

Putting my own emotions ‘on display’ through my art let others connect with theirs and even the simple act of writing a comment in the exhibition visitors book was cathartic for some.

If we can find ways to create places where we can talk more about what it’s like to face death / be with someone who is dying, maybe we can all help one another through the simple act of empathy. Together we can learn the language we need to understand and process death.


My words died with her,

my tongue now

the steady floor of a cave

rubbed smooth by grief

that burst through a shock- jammed throat.

A migrant in a new land.

My stories of her life

and words for her death

wriggle illegibly somewhere,

waiting for a language to be learned.

(Mark sadly died of cancer six months after The Memorandum Series exhibition)

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Death is the ultimate disruptor, but what I’ve found, is that the life learning from death bequeaths skills akin to those we need to cope with a disruptive world of continuing change and new developments.

Tell us about your work experience:

I’m a freelance writer and artist and work across a variety of setting including health.

If you participated in an End of Life Storytelling Event, tell us which Chapter or city you came from:

Glasgow, Scotland


Image - Melanie Sims
Poem - Mark Halliday


Join the conversation:

Photo of Melanie Sims

I think that's very true Marine. We can never know death, we can only react to its impact on our lives and that impact can be complex, profound and last a long time. Coping is the scary part because we're afraid we won't cope. Talking and sharing in a 'place' where death is the focus let's us be genuine about our fears, and in doing so we mitigate them.

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