Lewis Barfoot takes us to the darkest and most desperate days of grief. Sharing with us how her recent loss has affected both her life and her song. Her music and musical practice became driftwood for her sinking sailor. The most resilient flotation device you could imagine.
– Lewis Barfoot –
Folk Singer- Songwriter Lewis Barfoot speaks to us about her recent experience of loss and how it affected her life and her song. Described by Irish Radio International as “Delicious: a massage of the heart, a whisper to the soul” Lewis’s debut EP “Catch Me” was released this January. She is currently touring the UK on her Summer Sundays Tour.
Find out more about her work at:
I first heard about the Death Cafe a few weeks ago on Facebook – I saw an upcoming event was taking place at the Asylum in Peckham and out of a spongy soft focus, my eyes & ears pricked up like an animal who had finally tracked the scent of it’s prey. This is what I had been looking for and I didn’t even know I was on the hunt.
My Mum died last March after a year’s troublesome journey with illness.
My Life was changed. I’d been holding everything together and then it shattered into a zillion splinters. The things I held dearly in life became totally irrelevant. Life simplified. I was grieving. That what all. That was enough.
I have been working as an artist for 13 years, at first as an actress and theatre maker, jumping through the fringe, touring and west end theatre hoops before focusing on creating my own work. In recent years my focus has shifted to music and I principally work as a singer songwriter now. During my Mum’s illness and death, music and my musical practice became driftwood for my sinking sailor. The most resilient flotation device you could imagine. In a sea of desperate sadness I could hold onto something that held me. And we’d be off, on a treacherous journey. I would sit at the keyboard with my cavern of bottomless sadness and go around in circles, asking the same questions of the same chords. What do we do now? My MUM is dead. What happens when Sunday comes and I don’t have the “hello love, it’s only me, just phoning to say hello” message on the answerphone? What happens NOW? What is important now? Is this even really happening? Perhaps she’ll be back tonight and this is all a dream.
But it was true, I had seen her die, I saw her body lifted from the bed, down the stairs and out of the door. She was gone.
I wanted to talk about death, I consumed stories about death, “H is for Hawk”, “Grief is thing with feathers” and I was incredible fickle about how I wanted to engage with it. Some friend’s I could talk endlessly with; we’d share stories about the loss of our Mother’s, be spacious for each other and a mutual support and love was born. But others, I didn’t want to engage with at all. I spend a great deal of time at home. Socialising became a futile pastime as I began to trust my instinct for what I needed. At times it felt brutal but I listened to my needs and allowed myself to do and be what I needed to do and be.
The unanswered questions mounted and the absence of Mum created a new series of unknowns. What to do on Mothers Day, a week after her death, when the world is shouting “celebrate” at me and I want to shout back “FUCK OFF”. When the university students in good will, shake a coin filled bucket in my face “Help find a cure for cancer” “FUCK OFF!” I wanted to shout back, fuck off, fuck you, fuck cancer. Let me grieve.
I found in incomprehensible that other people couldn’t see my grief.
I didn’t shout
I cried a lot
I was held a lot
thank You Vince, my dear husband.
I cried more and was held more
I’d play the keyboard
It heard my cries.
The guitar danced with my sadness
I fell in love with my guitar
it held me and allowed me to hold it
with all the pain surging through my body
I wrote songs
some too personal to share and some that needed to be heard.
I sang to other people
I was terrified to share my grief
but as soon as I did
the people I feared
The social mask disappeared
and we stood in our mutual experience of loss.
They shared their stories
I shared my songs
I was held by their honesty – They were held by mine
without trying to fix or change anything
we shared our humanity.
This was before I’d heard about the Death Cafe. An open space created for people to come together and talk about death, life and all the bits in between, over cake and a cuppa. The Asylum is an exquisitely beautiful old chapel in Peckham, southeast London run by an arts collective. I first heard about it through my husband who made a solo dance theatre piece there in 2013. I went to the last night of his show and at the end he said “tonight there will be an extra scene”. Involving me! I was called into the space, he led me around the set and beneath one of the helium balloons was a little box. It had been there for the whole performance. He opened the box and inside was a beautiful engagement ring. Vince proposed to me, in front of the whole audience and I said yes! 2 years later I recorded my first music video Catch Me at the Asylum, so when I read that a Death Cafe was happening their, it was perfect.
I asked the organiser if I could sing a song and she said yes, so I opened the Death Cafe with Sweet Dreams. It is still a challenge to sing but every time I do I feel more connected to my Mum.
It is good to talk, it is good to sing.
The space then opened up into groups of about 6. We sat and chatted about our experiences of life, death, our believes about spirit. We shared anecdotes and some very practical advice was offered between people. It was what you wanted it to be. The space was there for you. No agenda, no rigid formality. I wish I had heard about the Death Cafe sooner, but I am grateful I heard about it. It is so important to find a community in which to share experience of life and death. And this is one that worked for me. I also saw a bereavement counsellor, who was a great safe haven to touch base with. We met every fortnight and I had the space to talk about more practical aspects of dealing with bereavement . I could rant and she would help me turn that around into something practical and then I could turn that into music. I am very grateful for that space.
Over the fifteen months since Mum’s death I have learned I cannot control Grief. I learned to surrender to it. Let it take its course. I’m not part of the “Package it away and carry on” camp. No, I needed to let grief live in me in it’s fullness. And I wanted to be seen in that fullness. Wise Owl is a song I wrote recently that reflects back on this journey.
“Everyone has their journey with me
If they choose not to fight it
Take every turn as it comes, let it be
Even if you don’t like it”
The wise owl had spoken to me.
It is currently my favourite song and the Cellist I play with Maria Rodriguez Reina has written a chillingly perfect Cello line for it. We will be recording Wise Owl and Sweet Dreams over the next months and will put them on my debut Album which I intend to release next year.
Good bye from the Wise owl, thank you for reading.
All photographs in this post have been taken by Patrick Dodds
Footage from live performances of both songs and more is available on YouTube:
If you have a response to my work, my writings or these songs, I’d love to hear from you.
You can message me directly through my website.