Poignant portraits challenge attitudes to death and dying

Picture: submitted
Picture: submitted
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A groundbreaking new photographic exhibition which portrays how a range of people across Scotland coped with a loved one dying will tour the country to promote more supportive attitudes to death, dying and bereavement.

Glasgow-based artist Colin Gray took the photographs for the project, set up by the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care, which will be displayed in hospital and libraries.

It Takes A Village features 14 photographs and stories, including those of Claire Linton. Picture: Colin Gray

It Takes A Village features 14 photographs and stories, including those of Claire Linton. Picture: Colin Gray

He said: “The new exhibition explores themes of love, loss, mortality. Yes there was sadness among these people at their what they had or would lose but there was also a celebration of life. And making the most of time together. I wanted the pictures to show how what people who care for a loved one have to do, listen and be there and cope.”

The exhibition, titled It Takes A Village, features 14 photographs and stories from different viewpoints, including a son who looked after his mother for five years with dementia, a teacher in a secondary school, a children’s palliative care nurse and a taxi driver.

Claire Linton, 36, of Falkirk, who looked after her father for six months at home when he was dying of cancer, is in the exhibition.

She said: “If you love someone when they are vulnerable and have nothing to offer then you have accomplished true love.

“I took six months off work to be with dad when he had cancer. I remember one time, my mum was speaking to a friend on the phone and she said, ‘Tommy? Aye, he’s no bad, he’s doin’ alright.’

“My dad turned to me and said ‘No bad? I’ve got me arse in soil and two feet in the grave and she’s tellin’ people I’m ‘no bad’?’

“He was hilarious. He was so funny. Looking after him wasn’t stressful – that was the joyous part. It was a privilege. The hard part was realising he was going to die.”

The exhibition also features Stefanie McLean, 28, of Edinburgh, an assistant in a care home for people with dementia. She said: “You have to learn to take grief in your stride almost. I’d never seen a dead person before. Their little room in the care home is empty and somebody else will come along and fill it. It’s OK to cry. But you’re still at work.”

Mark Hazelwood, chief executive of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care, said the exhibition highlighted the number of people affected when someone is dying, including family, friends, colleagues, medical staff and carers to people who get to know chronically ill people in cafes or in taxis.

He said: “Whether it is looking after an ageing parent, working as a nurse, or cooking a meal for a bereaved neighbour, every day people help each other through the difficult times that can come with death, dying, loss and care. We wanted to show that ordinary people do amazing things when it comes to looking after the people around them.

“The exhibition aims to show care and support comes in many guises and is needed by many different people.”

Going on display at 22 locations, the exhibition is being launched as part of Death Awareness Week Scotland which runs from tomorrow until 15 May.

The week has been organised by Scottish alliance Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief as part of its ongoing work to promote more openness about death, dying and bereavement in Scotland.