Overview of the activity
This is a powerful activity that can be used to explore career, personal development and biography. It takes many people into a zone of discomfort, a topic that they may not want to explore, so should be taken with this activity. We should be sensitive in choosing it and also throughout the activity itself.
How it works
In the Graveyard Activity, you imagine yourself at the end of your life. Participants are invited to take a large piece of flip chart size paper and to star the shape of a large gravestone onto it.
You could also have templates made or sketch the outlines in pencil for people to trace over with a thick pen. This can be worthwhile if people aren’t comfortable drawing.
Invite participants to then imagine their deaths. Yes, I’m serious. Some people have thought about their mortality and the reality that we do not live forever. Others have not, which is why you have to be sure people are up for doing this.
Take a few minutes. Some questions you could ask people to think about and visualise are
How long do you hope to live for?
Who will be at your funeral?
Where will you be buried or cremated?
What do you want to have achieved by the time you die?
What kind of live have you lived – what were the highs and lows?
What do other people think of you?
How do you want to be remembered?
Then ask people to write a short epitaph on their drawn gravestone that they genuinely would like to be written on their grave when they die. This isn’t a literal exercise. On their real gravestone they might just want dates and family members. This is more about capturing the essence of their life in a single statement.
Here are a few positive examples…
Once we have drawn the grave stones, we fill them in as above. These can then be discussed in pairs or small groups. It can also be good to just behold them alone for a few minutes. It can get quite emotional. The activity can be a real wake-up call for some people who realise that their current life path is not heading to the point describe on the grave stone.
We can also share this in plenary. The facilitator should keep things gentle ,light and respectful.
An Applied Improvisation Variation on this Activity
In some groups we can go further. Invite participants to stick their gravestones at real grave height on ther back of a chair. We can then create a graveyard in the room.
We stand around the grave of that person. They can even lie down or they could also play the part of someone giving a eulogy. They read out their own grave stone to the group and improvise the eulogy.
“Paul died after a short illness. Though he didn’t make a fortune, hhe finally got to publish a children’s novel and also realised his dream of retiring to the North of Scotland. He was loved by his family and friends and loved to tell stories to his grand children. He loved his job and never allowed work to dominate his life. he died with a broad smile on his face…”
It can get humorous but very emotional. Be ready for plenty of time for debrief. Don’t do the exercise if you think people aren’t ready or up for it.
Taking the activity further – the dark side
We can take this activity further by imagining a worst-case scenario. What would we not want to have as our epitaph? What would constitute a life badly lived for us? For example…
Take plenty of time to debrief, possibly in pairs or smaller groups. We could start with the negative picture, discuss it and then imagine a positive one, looking for changes in our lives that we need to make to turn the darker picture into a lighter one. Here we can turn the activity into a coaching-type discussion.
Debriefing the whole activity
There are plenty of questions to help debrief and reflection on this activity
What have you learned about your life now and in the future?
How did the activity make you feel?
What are your feelings about death?
is it ever too late to change our lives?
What did you notice about your gravestone compared to other peoples’?
What changes, if any, do you want or need to make in your life?
Another version of this exercise is to create 140 character Tweets. Imagine the day of your death. What would you like people to be tweeting about you?
These cab be written up on a flip chart, or read aloud.
We could also do this as an improvised activity.
We can also imagine different people on the day of our death and imagine what they would tweet about us? Family members, friends, work colleagues?