A Night of Grief and Mystery
Stephen Jenkinson and Gregory Hoskins
March 14: 48 Watt Street, Newcastle
DEATH is a subject most of us avoid, but for Canadian former palliative care counsellor turned performer it is front and centre of his life’s work and art.
Stephen Jenkinson, the author of the book Die Wise and subject of the film Griefwalker, brought his two man performance a Night of Grief and Mystery to the restored church at 48 Watt Street on March 14.
The venue proved to be the perfect place to host a night of intense questioning of how we face-off with death.
In what was primarily a spoken word performance, Jenkinson was joined on stage by fellow-Canadian musician Gregory Hoskins. Hoskins played guitar and saxophone throughout the performance, sometimes quietly in the background providing an ambience and place to drift to that seemed to simultaneously ease and amplify the intensity of the subject matter.
Hoskins punctuated Jenkison’s prose with half a dozen songs in a voice that was reminiscent, at times, of Jeff Buckley. The music certainly added to the ethereal quality of the show.
Jenkinson spent years heading an in-home palliative counselling team in Canada. He is also a Harvard educated theologian, although what we believe is not called into question throughout his performance. Instead the audience is asked to consider the great “mystery” of death, while Jenkinson maintains “we must know death to live well.”
Throughout the show he tells stories of the dying he has encountered. Each story brings the opportunity for Jenkinson to explore and question the things we know and assume about our relationship with death, the dying and life.
One such story focused on a couple in their 30s. They have a young child who plays quietly in another room while his father lays on a bed in the “living” room dying. Jenkinson is asked to go to the home where the man’s wife sits in a chair beside his death bed.
It becomes clears to Jenkinson the man, who has only been sick for a month and may not live for another, does not know his pancreatic cancer will kill him.
He is faced with the prospect of telling him, something his wife is against him knowing. Jenkinson so masterfully tells these stories that the audience is transported to every place Jenkinson leads them. We were there with this man and his wife when Jenkinson chose to answer his question, “Am I dying?” with the word, “Yes.”
The show was both a confronting yet soothing experience. Yes, we will all die, but the over-riding message of his performance was the more deeply we can understand and accept this the more deeply we can fall in love with life.