The (equally early) delegates streamed through the doors, a diverse flood of men and women, variously attired in suits, shawls, jeans and rainbow jumpers. Admittedly most were 'middle' aged, but a few young 'uns and a smattering of elders also graced the multiple round tables. The room was set up cabaret style, with 8 seats to a table. I scanned the room, many of the tables were already full but I spied one, towards the front, second row, with a spare seat. A table of twinkly-eyed women, one of whom had blue hair, extravagant earrings and a wicked smile. Yep, I thought, that spare seat next to her, that's MINE!
How well I chose. The delegates at the table included palliative care nurses, 2 GPs and a Hospice PR officer, all of whom reacted with delight to my introduction as 'a film producer' and seemed enthused and intrigued by Still Loved, agreeing that it could help them, or their friend, their colleague or sister or great uncle. Throughout the event, as ever, everyone I spoke to had some experience of stillbirth which they felt palpable relief at being encouraged to share. As ever, talking about our film was the first opportunity they had had to share it, frankly and unapologetically, with someone who was unafraid to hear them.
The talks we heard were fascinating, illuminating and inspiring by turns.
I had never really thought about 'digital legacy' nor what I might leave behind on Social media when I die, I hadn't realised how important it is to share your passwords with at least one other trusted person- what If I die and no-one can access my phone, facebook or email accounts to let my networks know of my demise and then to shut my accounts down so they can't be hacked and used callously to advertise payday loans or some other immoral product or 'service'?
It occurred to me that stillborn babies may also have a digital legacy, created by their parents during pregnancy. Parents who share scans, blogs and hopeful status updates feather the online nest for their children and create a digital memory box which they may not realise exists in the grief-sodden aftermath of baby loss.
There were brilliant talks from 'alternative' funeral directors, the founder of Death Cafe and two women from LOROS who have toured with a 'Before I Die' wall, getting the public to be public about their bucket list, in public places.
During the networking sessions and lunch time I connected with many fascinating and enthusiastic care providers, hospice workers, funeral directors and the head of ceremonies from the humanist society. Most notable was, perhaps, fellow filmmaker and bereaved parent, Jane Harris who is making a film about her son Josh (who died at the age of 22). We met at lunch and shared stories about the experience of making a film about grieving parents and seeing 'the wall' come down on the faces of those who are unwilling or too terrified to talk or listen about this subject.
Most profound to me was her comments on losing friends after losing Josh:
"People are scared because they don't know what to say. They should just speak to us, tell us they don't know what to say, I'd much rather that than being ignored or avoided."
The conference ended in the late afternoon and as people slowly left, I could see that many new alliances had been formed, everyone seemed energised and inspired by the talks and bubbling with possibilities for events to be planned around the Dying Matters Awareness Week: 9th-15th May 2016
With a display table full of promo materials and the trailer playing on my laptop, I was lucky to be pitched next to MAMA Academy. The guests flooded in, from bereaved parents, to researchers, artists and producers to experts in Obstetrics many stopped to ask what was on my table and why, many stopped to watch the trailer and add their name to our mailing list.
With a panel chaired by Richard Horton and including both bereaved parents and medical experts the central questions of the day were explored and interrogated. Stigma, the need for unity and solidarity between charities, NGOs, central government and the NHS on issues around stillbirth, prevention and bereavement care as well as the barriers to research and improvements were central themes.
They sent a taxi to cart me and my many bags of promo materials over to the broadcasting centre. After several coffees and many trowels of make up I was sent into the studio to be interviewed.
It was a wonderful, inspiring and exhausting few days in The Smoke and I headed home on the commuter train that evening feeling very grateful.