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I’m Not Here Provides a Safe Space to Confront and Celebrate Grief

Friday 19th, January 2018 / 07:00
By Jordan Yeager

photo by Dorje de Burgh

VANCOUVER – Suicide. It’s a word people tend to shy away from – what is there to say about something at once so unexplainable and so human? It’s an abstract, daunting concept, but it’s something we’ve all thought about. In I’m Not Here, Doireann Coady explores the simplicity of life and death through music, dance, and recordings from her childhood, all in tribute to her brother Donal, who took his life in 2009.

“No one cares that my brother is dead,” says Coady. “There are thousands of people who have lost people [to suicide], and no one wants to talk about it, because it embarrasses or scares them. That’s so disempowering for the people grieving – it erases that person. So while I’m doing the show, it’s about looking [death] in the eye. I’m going to have to say he’s dead and I’m going to have to watch people’s reactions.”

Coady’s experience isolated her; it made her feel alone, despite that experience being lived by thousands of people every day. Donal’s death became a “congestion point” in her work, but she wasn’t avoiding it so much as biding her time “in terms of the cycles of grief and when was an appropriate time to tackle it in a way that wouldn’t be too damaging, too raw, or too exposing.” Perhaps that congestion would have cleared more quickly if others were as open to discussing suicide as she is.

“For me, the main thing has been giving a voice to the silent experience of grief through suicide,” she says. “It’s something that is so muted within society. There’s very little expression around how utterly challenging it is. But there’s also been a profound joy in reconnecting with the material that my brother left behind.”

The material she’s referencing lays the groundwork for I’m Not Here’s soundtrack. Donal was musical as well, and after his death, Coady’s family found recordings of his music – recordings he never even knew existed.

“My dad buys these Dictaphones in charity shops, and he was testing one to see if it worked,” says Coady. “He pressed record and just left it in the house, and it was only after Donal died that my dad was like, ‘I think this is Donal singing.’ I also found these other tapes my dad made of us when we were kids. It was a happy accident.”

“This kind of turns into a DJ set that he never got to play,” she concludes. And it’s not all depressing – “There’s been people spontaneously standing up and dancing in the middle of it. I think at a certain point, people want to dance with him and for him and for themselves. So it becomes quite an involved experience. It’s cathartic for everyone; it’s not just about Donal.”

I’m Not Here runs January 24-28 at The Cultch as part of the PuSh Festival.

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