Some words on Griefcast live, in which Cariad Lloyd, Katherine Ryan and Emma Freud met at BFI London for an upbeat and cathartic podcast chat on death, mortality and the grieving process.
“All that we are is matter and energy.” So said Emma Freud at last Saturday’s live Griefcast recording. Hippie connotations have given the word “energy” (when describing the lifeforce of we human types) a bit of a bad rep, she says. But “energy” is perhaps the best word we have for the nameless thing that animates us, the thing that gives us life, the thing that is us. So what happens when we die? Where does that energy go?
It could so easily be morbid. But Griefcast brims with a lovely energy. Griefcast is a podcast in which Cariad Lloyd chats with other comedians about death, mortality and the grieving process. It is cathartic, helping a lot of people understand grief, and feel less alone while they are going through it. Cariad’s persona shines through each episode. Warm, encouraging, full of empathy.
For the live Griefcast recording at the BFI’s #PodStock day in London, Cariad was joined by broadcaster Emma Freud and uterus jumper’d comedian (and self-proclaimed “Martian”) Katherine Ryan. Their chat will be released as a podcast in the near future (I’ll add a link from this post when it goes live). In the meantime, their chat was so wonderful that I wanted to jot down just some of the highlights here.
Katherine Ryan’s auntie Anna has the answer
Katherine Ryan blessed us with the ultimate answer to the impossible question of what happens to us when we leave this world. It came via Katherine’s auntie Anna from Ireland, and her decidedly non-hippie experience of the energy that animates us all. Through her work, auntie Anna has seen a lot of people being born and a lot of people dying. Entering this world and leaving this world.
There is a moment at birth when the newborn infant seems suddenly to switch on, drawing in their very first breath. The energy arrives.* There is a moment at death when life fully leaves each person. The energy departs. It’s customary in hospitals to open the window shortly after a person dies, to allow this energy to escape into the world.**
Katherine’s auntie Anna believes that when you die, you get to decide how that energy is spread around the people you’ve known and met, to help them learn how to live. Katherine, Emma and Cariad agreed that this was a perfect, beautiful and even quite plausible take on what happens to us after this life. I’m with them on this one. The matter may fail, but the energy has to go somewhere.
The mortal David Attenborough
Emma Freud explained how she’d recently tackled the difficult yet inarguable fact that Sir David Attenborough, too, is mortal.*** She interviewed the great man at last month’s Cheltenham Festival, and received many a critical tweet when she posed a question from her son: “When you die, will we get a day off school?” Sir David replied: “Probably not.”
The live Griefcast took a Pythonesque turn as the panel imagined the press coverage that might have greeted the sight of Emma Freud being forced to deliver mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to Sir David, had he taken a turn for the mortal during their onstage interview. Katherine Ryan offered the perfect headline: “Blue Planet.”
Emma also generously shared her practical tips for dealing with funeral directors:
- Don’t go to them. Invite them to your own home, where you can sit in your own chairs and serve them your own tea. It makes a huge difference.
- They will ask “How many cars?” The correct answer is “None.” Not all in the funeral directing trade upsell to people at their most vulnerable. But some do. You don’t need them to provide any cars other than the Hearse.
Getting us through
Griefcast is a perfect – and perfectly hilarious – way to explore mortality, life and death. I love Cariad Lloyd’s project to come to terms with her own experience of grief, and to share wisdom and laughter to help others.
On the train to London, I listened to Marc Maron’s recent WTF podcast chat with John Cleese. Cleese offered some wonderful words about the power of laughter:
“It’s not just that laughter is pleasant and good for our body chemistry and helps us to relax. It’s actually very good for getting us through things.”
The medium of podcasting is like no other. Podcasting enables longform, intimate and insightful conversations on any and every topic under the sun.****
I attended the Griefcast recording with my excellent friend Charlie Eastabrook. We’re currently putting together ideas for our own podcast project. The podcasting gods seemed to be watching over us that day. Not only did we get to see and hear podcaster extraordinaire Cariad Lloyd in action, but whilst wandering London beforehand, we also happened across a poster of one of our podcasting idols: Michelle Visage.*****
All that we are is matter and energy.
Words, empathy and laugher can get us through all this.
* This puts in me in mind of the beautiful passage from JG Ballard’s autobiography Miracles of Life, in which he describes how he felt on seeing his wife Mary give birth to their daughters Fay and Beatrice (in 1957 and 1959, respectively):
“Far from being young, as young as a human being can be, they seemed immensely old, their foreheads and features streamlined by time, as archaic and smooth as the heads of pharaohs in Egyptian sculpture, as if they had travelled an immense distance to find their parents. Then, in a second, they became young and were carried off by the midwife and Mary’s sister.”
** Cariad said that – entirely unaware of this custom – she’d instinctively done this herself, opening the windows directly after her father passed away.
*** I should stress that Sir David is very much alive at the time of writing, and I sincerely hope that remains the case as you read this, gentle reader.
**** The Letters from a hopeful creative podcast recently put out a great episode in which hosts Sara Tasker & Jen Carrington discussed the art of podcasting. I love their central argument that podcasting is an entirely experimental medium. Podcasts can be anything between one second and five hours long, they say. There are no limitations on the topics your podcast covers, or on what you say on your podcast. Yes!
***** Michelle Visage is the co-host with RuPaul of the amazing What’s The Tee? podcast. She is also currently appearing in Everybody’s talking about Jamie at the Apollo Theatre on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue.
- Triple picture of the Griefcast live cast (plus detail images of Katherine, Emma and Cariad and of Emma and Cariad) courtesy of Michael-Jason, who originally posted these images on Instagram. My sincerest thanks to Michael-Jason for his kind permission for me to share them here. Respect, sir!
- Low-quality image of Cariad Lloyd avec microphone taken by me. Apologies for the quality of this image…
- Silly selfie portrait of mjcarty, Charlie Eastabrook and Michelle Visage taken by Mrs Eastabrook herself. Thank you, Charlie!