Attending a death awareness event is definitely not for everyone. If you are ready for it though, if the time and circumstances are right, it can be incredibly helpful – as the testimonials below describe. If you’d like to ask me any questions, and when you’re ready to book a place, contact me.
I’ve been running death workshops and retreats since 2002. You can read my story, and find out why I started doing this work and my motivation to continue.
My job, as I see it, is to help you explore – on the practical, mental, emotional and spiritual level – and be better prepared for, this inevitable and mysterious part of life. I offer a series of exercises and led practices that help you develop a relationship with death, your own and other people’s. We come at the topic from several different angles and it’s up to you where you go with it. We work as individuals, sometimes in pairs, and as a group. You do not have to do or share anything you don’t want to!
Exactly what we’ll cover during a workshop may depend on who’s there, where it’s happening and how long we’ve got – but this may give you some idea of what’ll happen. After an opening circle, we’ll look at what death is, what we think ‘a good death’ is, and explore our experience of loss. On the practical front there’ll be a session to help you write a will, plan your funeral, and tackle an advance directive. We’ll look at how to work with unfinished (emotional) business – most of us have some – as well as what happens during the dying process and how best to support the dying. We’ll cover the importance of ‘presence’, how meditation may help, and experience some traditional reflection practices. And end the w/e with a short and beautiful closing exercise. A number of short films may support some of these sessions and an evening feature film is another possibility.
These events are not content driven or determined by doctrine. Whilst acknowledging and grateful for my Buddhist training (which has plenty to offer this topic and will show its influence) we are not, for example, studying the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The emphasis is on an experiential journey. We all have our own truths. My aim is to help you find yours or – if you’ve already found it – to stabilise and deepen it.
Check out the events listed (under the testimonials below) to find one that suits you. Or invite me to your group/area.
People come to these workshops for a range of reasons, there’s no wrong or right reason. Sometimes it’s a bereavement that has opened the door, for others it’s an illness, or surviving an illness that has bought them along. Many people come because they simply want to turn towards dying and death when they’ve never done so, or not with much depth or detail. It’s hard for many people to do that on your own. Approaching this ‘work’ with a group over two or more days make it so much easier to do. There’s laughter and tears. It’s often life-changing.
When you book on I’ll send you my substantial recommended reading list – should you feel so inclined – to help you turn towards this work. And sometimes, nearer the time, I’ll suggest some other things you can do to prepare for the workshop – it’s all optional.
Please note that although these workshops have undoubtedly helped many recently bereaved people, and I am a trained bereavement counsellor, attending this event is not the equivalent of, or a substitute for, bereavement counselling.
If you’ve got any questions about attending do contact me.
www.naturaldeath.org.uk – independent funeral advice, environmentally inclined
www.cruse.org.uk - for free bereavement counselling
www.dyingmatters.org - an English & Welsh coalition, led by the NCPC (National Council for Palliative Care), aims to change attitudes
www.goodlifedeathgrief.org.uk – a Scottish coalition established and hosted by Scottish Palliative Care, aims to change attitudes
www.dyingindignity.org.uk - a campaigning organisation focused on changing the law on assisted dying
www.compassionindying.org.uk - info on rights & choices at the end of life, provides free advance directives
www.helpthehospices.org.uk - a coalition of UK hospices whose services include a fabulous ehospice news service
www.finalfling.com - a funky site on life and death decisions founded by Barbara Chalmers who’s “Head of the family”
What participants have said
“I really want to thank you for a great and inspiring weekend. It took me way beyond my habitual concerns and re-Minded me of what I truly value. I am so very grateful. Thank you for your courage and inspiration.”
Ann Blythe, Cambridge, November 2014
“I went on the death weekend at Hilfield Friary November 2013 because my mother is terminally ill and we were both struggling with accepting this fact. My biggest concern was facing up to the reality and uncertainty of death. I was also looking for ways of offering my mother support in a non-religious and sympathetic way.
What surprised me most about the workshop was the realisation that death is something we will all face and that it is, in fact, part of life. What changed for me most was I am much more aware of death, not in a morbid or depressing way, but in a sense of being aware of the transient nature of life. I also feel more prepared to have discussions with my family and loved ones about their own, and my own, death. I hope to pass this openness onto my children to enable them to live their lives without a deep fear of death and more a sense of acceptance.
My situation now is different because I have a sense of acceptance I did not have before and I believe I am more prepared to help my mother on her journey. We can now have open conversations about the reality of her death without being constantly miserable or avoiding the issue. I also feel I have some practical skills and a reading list to help me in the future if things are difficult for me after her death.
I would recommend this experience to anyone who is facing a loss in the family or who has a fear of death themselves.”
“I signed upto Siddhisambhava’s five day long death retreat in Suffolk , May 2013 because my landlady was refurbishing her kitchen! I did look at other options, holidays, but none of them worked out for various reasons. It was also my first ever retreat. (I had been meditating for a year by then.) Anyway, it turned out to be the best ‘holiday’ I’ve ever had and one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Apart from the practical things we did, like write a will and prepare a funeral, Siddhisambhava also included activities I could do to understand myself better, help others, and repair my relationship with my family, which has been very useful. We talk about death a lot in my culture, of course, but that doesn’t mean people are comfortable about the topic, and there are many superstitions.
I felt relaxed and well taken care of. The discussions were open. I didn’t expect a job rota on the retreat, that was a surprise, but it was great to work with the other retreatants.
Unfortunately, my landlady’s mother died a couple of weeks after the retreat. Instead of feeling at a loss and awkward, I was able to give appropriate support to help her through a difficult time. I would recommend this course to everyone.”
Siew-Yit Yong, computational biologist, Cambridge
“I’ve co-led two ‘Death and the Only Beauty that Lasts’ full length retreats with Jan / Siddhisambhava. During the first one, I was going through a particularly painful and difficult time and had reservations about trying to engage with such a challenging topic as my responses to death – particularly my own.
However, I found Jan’s approach both sensitive and flexible. Right from the beginning, with participants speaking from their hearts about their own experiences and responses to death, I was drawn in to an intense and emotionally involving exploration of the theme. There’s no doubt that what Jan drew us into feeling and looking at was deeply challenging, and yet once the ‘ice had been broken’ by those initial sessions, there was an ever greater sense of ‘lightening up’ around the whole area of death.
In fact, I’m sure that this and the following retreat we did together put me in very good stead for the heart-wrenching events that followed a year later with the final illness and death of my mother. And one of the workshops we did – around preparing our own will – has simmered away for several years and is finally about to bear fruit.
Death is not a subject most people really want to face up to, especially when it’s personal. It would be easy to think ‘no, not for me’. And yet, I’d recommend Jan’s workshops and retreats to anyone – exactly because we don’t want to look there. But if you do, with the skilful and sensitive guidance that Jan offers, you are likely to discover a sense of being more alive, more present and more at home with yourself. Facing our human situation in this realistic way, turning towards our fears, is exactly what helps them to diminish.”
Tejananda, Chair, Vajraloka meditation retreat centre, Corwen, Wales
“I attended my first (I’ve done three!) ‘death and the only beauty that lasts’ workshop with some trepidation. I knew I was scared of death – my own and other peoples – and yet I sensed that this “arm’s length” attitude was unhelpful. Jan manages to be both vibrant and warm, challenging and safe in her approach, in fact as multi-faceted as death itself.
The workshops and exercises are a useful blend of practical advice and wisdom through to experiential and creative exercises which personally brought about some important and life-changing insights. The most helpful outcome for me has been that death has become completely normal and remained utterly mysterious, which seems entirely appropriate.”
Diane Kaylor, High Peak, Derbyshire
“My best friend, Adarsha, died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 38 at Bombay airport. We worked together for a charity called Karuna. He was in excellent health, so his death was an incredible shock. No-one close to me had ever died before this. I had a huge amount of grief to process, and a shocking awakening to my own mortality. Jan/Siddhisambhava came and did two days work with the whole team at Karuna. I was very open to this and welcomed this support of the process I was in.
Even though I then chose to go on a longer ‘death and the only beauty that lasts’ retreat with Jan, I had reservations about going. It was a year after Adarsha had died and while his death continued to be a strong theme in my life, there was an underlying sense of not wanting to drag things up again when they had started to settle. And yet I knew that the experience of Adarsha’s death had been so strong it was worth revisiting, not only in a retreat setting but in the safe, supportive and beneficial way I’d experienced the previous year with Jan in the workshop at the Karuna offices.
What surprised me was how happy I felt during the retreat. This material is strong and stirs up a lot of emotions. We were invited to go into these emotions as well as to be tender with ourselves. Because I did go into the heavy stuff that I hadn’t looked at so deeply or systematically on my own, I felt a lot of relief due to not trying to keep turning away from that anxiety and pain. There were so many moments, and meditations, I felt really delighted to be alive. I can say that it was the best retreat I have done.
Some of these exercises viscerally touched the core of my fears. I have incorporated these into my regular practice and consider death reflection as not only an essential part of my practice, but as one of the key ways that I try to develop insight. For this reason I cannot commend Jan/Siddhisambhava’s work highly enough, and do my best to commend it whenever I get the opportunity!
Doing this type of work in a group context helped me to appreciate that others too are grieving, or have grieved, and that I was not alone in that process. As a result of all the reflection on death, I got a glimmering of insight into what life is about, and a great deal more appreciation for life.
I was teaching meditation at the North London Buddhist Centre not long after doing this work. One women said she was there to help find some peace following the recent death of her mother. In the past I might not have spoken to her, but in the break I made a point of going up to her and asking how she was doing, indeed, I felt impelled to talk to her as I had a sense of what she was going through and hoped I could help through acknowledging her pain. I think my ability to empathise from personal experience allowed her to trust and open to me, and I’m really pleased that I was able to respond in this way. I’d recommend this work to anyone who is grieving. It helped me come to terms with the loss and find creative ways of turning that loss into compassion.
I’d also recommend this work to anyone who is serious about practicing the dharma (Buddhist teachings). In our sanitised Western world, death is hidden away and is not so easy to see unless we’re confronted with it through the loss of a loved one. Yet it’s a basic, central fear for ourselves and loved ones, and I think this is why I’ve found this work so potent and essential to my practice. There are times I do death reflections and I’m resisting with what feels like the whole of my being – ‘I don’t want to face this, I don’t want to do this now, I’m not in a still enough place to do this reflection.’ Yet every time I do, I feel the lightness of having attenuated my ego and crept a little closer towards acceptance of change.”
Jarrod Lovett/Ananta, Social Development Specialist, London/Kenya
“I want to strongly vouch for how valuable I found Jan Parker’s workshop ‘Death and the only beauty that lasts’ which I had the privilege to participate in, in May 2007. This provided me with a number of profound insights into my relationship with death, which have helped inform my professional and personal engagement with it.
I remember before the workshop being in the midst of a busy time work-wise (I also lecture on University psychotherapy and counselling courses, as well as having my Jungian psychotherapy practice) and wondering whether I would be able to put all of this to one side for a weekend and really focus on the topic and process involved. So, apart from feeling stressed, I was also unsure whether I was ‘in the right place’ for this experience.
I need not have worried. Through a series of carefully planned and explained exercises, set within the frame of a meditative but stimulating atmosphere, skilfully facilitated by Jan, the whole group seemed to ease into a deeper place swiftly and smoothly, as we shared experiences and perspectives on what death ‘is’ or ‘means’ to us.
One exercise in particular impacted on me – we were asked to write (without lifting the pen from the paper) about our relationship to death across our lives. In relation to my own experiences of bereavement, this evoked a number of connections and realisations which have been significant in reshaping my sense of self-in-relation to life and death. I was touched and surprised by how much was evoked by this, and the other, activities.
Across my experience of the workshop I was impressed by the way Jan was able to connect with people’s deeply felt (and on occasion distressful recollection of) experiences related to death. She provided a sense of containment and safety which enabled participants to share and reflect on their encounters with, and their fears and speculations about, death.
The Buddhist frame utilised emphasised that whatever death represents for us, it enables the meaningful ‘beauty’ of our lives to remain (or continue on, depending on your beliefs and intuitions about death) beyond the end of our life. This spiritual point of reference was unobtrusive and gently offered, leaving us each to set it alongside whatever beliefs or ideas we have about this.
I would thoroughly recommend this workshop to anyone who is looking for a space in which to explore this vital area of being human, so often overlooked. It would also have professional relevance for people who work in health and care related fields where support for people dealing with bereavement, or their existential questions about death, regularly feature.
Counsellors, psychotherapists and mental health professionals, and those who offer pastoral support in a faith based capacity, would also find this workshop most valuable.
Jan Parker’s work offers a unique gift in helping us to know what death can really mean to us and to those we work and live with.”
Phil Goss (Jungian Analyst), Cumbria, UK