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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 06 November 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Business Motion, Topical Question Time, Poverty, Urgent Question, Ivory Bill, Committee Announcement, Decision Time, Maybole Bypass


Time for Reflection

The first item of business is time for reflection. Our time for reflection leader is Mark Hazelwood, chief executive of the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care.

Thank you for the opportunity to share some thoughts.

Nearly everyone has experienced the death of someone who is important to them. Everyone here has a memory or a story to tell of someone who has died and who they still miss: a parent, a school friend, a sibling, a teacher who perhaps ignited an enthusiasm, a political mentor, a colleague or a child. Those people’s stories become part of our stories.

Where is the space for such stories of dead loved ones in 21st century Scotland? Many of our old traditions of remembrance have declined and, with them, the chance to remember and tell stories. That matters, because it is part of a wider silence that can leave people who have been bereaved feeling isolated. It matters, because the parents of children who have died are made to feel uncomfortable about saying their child’s name. It matters, too, because an opportunity to celebrate our shared humanity is lost—an opportunity for smiles, for some tears, perhaps, and for solace.

It is time to reignite old traditions and to create new ones. In the first week of November each year, people and organisations across Scotland take part in a festival called To Absent Friends, which is a people’s festival of storytelling and remembrance. To Absent Friends provides an excuse, an opportunity and a time of year when it is normal and acceptable to remember and tell stories. That makes it a little easier during the rest of the year to listen, to say the right thing and to support one another.

Anyone and everyone can take part in the festival in whatever way is meaningful for them. Here is a flavour of what is happening this week: at a care home in Livingston, people are having tea and cake and singing songs that hold special memories; at Easter Road football stadium, fans are writing messages and pinning photos on an absent friends wall; in Elgin, community members are joining together for an absent friends supper; at St Mary’s cathedral, people are gathering for personal reflection while listening to the beautiful music of Edinburgh brass band; in Inverness, young people are creating a photo memory mural; at an intergenerational dance party in Glasgow, people are dancing for the departed; the evening darkness of the Grassmarket is gradually being lit by candles of remembrance placed by passers-by; in Kilmarnock, prison inmates and staff are gathering together to share remembrances; and in cyberspace, memories are being tweeted and pictures facebooked.

To Absent Friends is a people’s festival. It takes place in public spaces, social media, workplaces, families, homes and communities and in people’s hearts and minds. The festival can remind us of what matters most and of what connects us all most deeply. Let us raise a toast: to absent friends.