In this guest blog by Debra MacDonald,-a well-being coordinator working in an East London nursing home-she chronicles a vital cultural and creative, yet often hidden aspect of her work on dying. Debra shares her experience with us, as part training for Entelechy artists working with her on our ‘Walking through walls’ programme


Beauty in Death  by Debra MacDonald

We all have different views and beliefs and kind of expect death to be a nasty suffering and awful experience to go through. But death does not have to be looked at in this way. If you know death is coming for whatever reason you can somewhat prepare; it depends on you as a person, on our upbringing and association with death. Sudden is harder for me and having seen death in many environments and ways, I taught myself grief does not have to be sad or death ugly.

When death is approaching I learnt to nurture it, to make it as beautiful as life, creating a space that is tranquil, fun, happy, comforting. I cannot take away someone’s pain or disease, but I can give them a warm smile and friendly hand and comforting words, but most of all a sense that the last days , hours, minutes can be beautiful: a combing of hair, a favourite song, a laugh, a joke; even if I’m not seen or heard I’m there. Who said anywhere death has to be dull, sad, lonely. Instead like a bird free, like life before.

We all see what we want to, behave how we’ve been taught and act how for decades. That’s what death is. But I see the person, no matter who they are and take time to care.

Imagine a ballet: the beginning is life, the middle a story, the end the last steps. Just like life itself it ends, but we hold beauty like music within a story. Last breaths, seeing the pain in someone’s eyes slowly going, the feeling they know its time. You feel every second, you smile, like that bird you fly, like the ballet the story is over.

When someone passes I look to the clouds. I step outside and breathe freedom, death is a beautiful freedom. Death can be beautiful.

In ‘Walking through walls’ Entelechy artists are embedded in nursing homes over a long period of time, often many years. As relationships deepen and the creative work evolves from a long term association with the community living there, our artists gradually witness and are changed by the fact that many people they grow to know and work with pass away.

We are lucky and privileged to collaborate with the well -being coordinators based in the homes, where there is an exchange of skills and insight between us all. Debra MacDonald is the well –being coordinator working in a nursing home in Poplar where  artists Shakti Gomez and Max Rolaz have been developing work for ‘Walking through walls’ since September.