‘Crossing Over’ is an interdisciplinary network of
international experts from different fields of research on death
and dying who will work interactively and collaboratively on the
theoretical and practical challenges posed by the changing face of
Both death as a moment in time and dying as a process result in
intersections between spheres which might not usually interact: the
theoretical and the social, the academic and the pragmatic, the
arcane and the everyday. ‘Crossing Over’ exemplifies a belief that
such complex matters can only be addressed by wide and innovative
exchanges between academic disciplines and between academics and
The network will consist of scholars from the
humanities and social sciences and practitioners from the caring,
medical and funerary professions. A conference in Sheffield in 2016
will share the fruits of the network’s research and will be open to
a wide range of professionals as well as members of the public.
‘Crossing Over’ will function through a
combination of face-to-face events and on-line communication tools.
Individual outputs from a range of disciplines and innovative
research collaborations between, for example, a literary scholar
and someone working in the hospice sector will not only produce an
enhanced understanding of the challenges of contemporary death but
will move towards new narratives of death in which sociologists,
historians, archaeologists and death management professionals can
have a stake.
The network is based jointly in the Department of English
and the Centre for
End of Life Studies at the University of Hull.
The 'Crossing Over' network comprises three working groups, each
of which focuses on specific topics that reflect the
group's research interests. These are: Missing
Bodies; Dying at
Home; and Objects as Untold
Crossing Over Newsflash - 10 October 2016
Check out our new Outputs tab to read the collaborative poem and
dying at home presentation from the network's March conference.
Network Update - October 2016
The Crossing Over Research Network concluded its activities with
a one-day conference held at the University of Sheffield in March
2016. As well as network members, attendees included staff and
volunteers from Rotherham Hospice,
members of Yorkshire branches of Cruse Bereavement Care and other
people interested in end of life studies including, for example, a
lady who works as a humanist funeral celebrant.
The conference programme included presentations from two of the
Research Network's working groups: Objects as Untold Stories; and
Dying at Home. The presentation from the Objects as Untold Stories
Group detailed how network members had worked with staff and
volunteers at Rotherham Hospice on a creative writing project. The
project explored the significance of 'things' in relationships with
people who are dying or deceased. A 'thing' might be something made
during a craft session or a gift received. Following a contextual
session drawing on concepts from archaeology and thinking about
connections with objects from the past, participants were invited
to share stories about their own relationships with patients, using
memories, pictures and/or physical objects as narration
tools. Working with these stories, the project team and
workshop participants then used creative writing to co-produce a
poem that weaved together fragments of the individual experiences
shared. The poem was read aloud at the conference and proved to be
a very moving although also a very uplifting experience. The poem
will be published shortly on this website and on the university's
Hydra digital repository.
The other main presentation at the conference came from the
Dying at Home group. Three group members began with a short
dramatisation of a person at the end of their life talking through
how and where they wanted to spend their last days. This then led
into a wider presentation about the assumptions and myths
surrounding dying at home.
The conference also heard papers from Professor Raphael
Cohen-Almagor about the role of the family in end of life decisions
and from Professor Eric Venbrux about changing funeral customs and
practices in Western Europe.
Crossing Over - Moving On
The Research Network's Principal Investigator, Dr. David
Kennedy, is currently in the process of applying for AHRC Follow-On
Funding for activities to run in Dying Matters National Awareness
Week in May 2017. The proposed activities are creative writing
workshops drawing on the Rotherham Hospice model; a Death Café
event on the university's main campus; and an ebook of short
stories dealing with end of life issues.
Living Well Dying
Cruse Bereavement Care
Dying Matters Partnership
Association for the Study
of Death and Society
Centre for Death and
Such a network is urgently needed in order to
address changes in the cultural and social experience of death, in
ideas about death, and in the management of death. The most obvious
change is that sudden, early adult death is rare but long periods
of frailty and disability prior to death are increasingly common.
Where ‘end of life’ once referred to the moment of death, Age UK
have recently suggested an expanded definition that means the last
ten years of increased 80-plus lifespans. One can point to, for
example, challenges to curative medicine materialised in the
Hospice Movement; critiques of medicalised models of grief changing
the way loss is understood; and the growth of virtual memorial
sites. These shifts in ‘ordinary’ death have parallels in more
radical activities such as the Right to Die movement.
There is also a need to produce theoretical
and practical models that will assist in the understanding of
bereavement in response to what Margaret Holloway has termed ‘the
new death’. Examples would include deaths caused by natural
disasters; the increase in deaths caused by alcohol or substance
abuse; teenage suicide; and teenage gang-related deaths. These
experiences are widely reported but little understood and go
hand-in-hand with the fact that, as Christine Valentine notes, ‘the
dead retain a significant social presence in the lives of the
At the same time, our relationship with death
has become increasingly paradoxical. Mourning is both a social
process and something that is fundamentally private. As Meghan
O’Rourke has observed, we live in ‘a dysfunctional culture in which
we avidly consume news of death on TV and duck away from it in real
life.’ The network will, therefore, focus on the following research
- The meaning of ‘the good death’ in the 21st
- Changing narratives of death – literary, media and social – and
the continuing social presence of the dead.
- New and emergent discourses of spirituality.
- The impact of ‘the new death’ on how we story the dead.
- Changing funeral and burial practices.
The main research areas of ‘Crossing Over’ are
informed by the following objectives:
1. To identify and respond to the theoretical
and practical challenges posed by the changing face of contemporary
death by the establishment of a new interdisciplinary network
consisting of scholars and practitioners, experts in different
fields of research on death and dying.
2. For this purpose, to organise and conduct a
combination of face-to-face events (a workshop and an
academic-public conference) with sustained use of on-line
3. To make proposals on the key ways to
address the challenges of contemporary death through innovative
research collaborations and interdisciplinary encounters that will
open conversations and develop new shared areas of reference
between the humanities and the social sciences; and between
academics and death management professionals. A literary scholar of
elegy and a social scientist studying contemporary obituaries might
work together to develop new approaches to changes in the stories
we tell about individual deaths.
4. To use these conversations, new shared
areas of reference, enhanced knowledge and new approaches to make a
significant public contribution to death education that will
suggest ways of moving beyond death-denying and death-avoiding
attitudes and practices.
5. To enhance knowledge and understanding of
the ways in which sustained theoretical and empirical research on
death and dying has radically re-drawn existing models of the human
encounter with loss; and how, in parallel, policy and practice
around the management of death has also been in transition from the
6. To develop new approaches that will be
sensitive to and value emotional expression and therefore break
down barriers between, for example, the personal and the
pedagogical or between the management of death and dying and
7. To develop definable synergies between the
different cognitive and organisational styles involved in the
management of end of life care, death and dying and the
social actualities of grieving.
8. To arrive at a more detailed and
penetrating view of the social and cultural diversity involved in
death and grieving and of the complex cultural and social processes
underlying, for example, the hospice movement or informal markers
at accident sites. This will be achieved, in part, through dialogue
between British and overseas network members.
10. To facilitate sustained and continuing
interaction, both formal and informal, among participants in the
network, to provide extensive opportunities for discussion and
debate, to promote the production of collaborative outputs, and to
stimulate further research initiatives of a collaborative nature
beyond the duration of the ‘Crossing Over’ project itself.
Continuing interaction will be supported through publishing the
network’s outputs in the form of an edited volume of essays; by
developing and maintaining a publicly accessible website; and by
agreeing and initiating further programmes of collaborative
research on cognate subjects in the field of death studies.
11. To involve postgraduate students in the
network’s formal deliberations and face-to-face events through the
technologically-enhanced resources upon which the network will
rely; and by the same means to disseminate its findings to the
academic community at large.
‘Crossing Over’ is funded by the AHRC’s
Research Networking Scheme for the period 2013-2015. It is based
jointly in the Department of English and the Centre for End of Life
Studies at the University of Hull and and will also have a
significant contribution from University of Sheffield's
multi-disciplinary Death Group convened from the Department of
The Principal Investigator of ‘Crossing Over’
is Dr David Kennedy who directs the network with the support of an
Advisory Committee comprising Dr Julie Ellis (University of
Sheffield), Dr Nicky Hallett (University of Sheffield), Professor
Margaret Holloway (University of Hull) and Professor Sarah Tarlow
(University of Leicester).
Objects Group Collaborative Poem
You are frail and vital, vivid and loving
Just this: priceless, crinkly, scared
When I think of you, I think of this:
Friendship and hot tea
Skin and empathy
When I think of you I say thank you
For memories, for laughter,
For your energy, for the moment
When I think of you, I think of this:
Mismatched but treasured, broken and mended Inherited and kept
To see, to feel, to hold
I’m small –
You are a beautiful garden
Part of the furniture
Frayed flex, fag burns,
A bag of soil that flowers
But you are precious to me and I love you
You do press-ups, don’t suffer fools, stickers
And open the floodgates to my memories,
Brighten my day
You are precious to me: the life and soul.
I love you.
You are –
Cuddly, determined, proud
Life and soul.
But tears behind closed doors.
When I think of you, I think
What is she thinking?
Fear of the unknown?
Why me – why not me?
“I’m alreyt, I’m alreyt”
My children’s father
“I’m alreyt, I’m alreyt”
How much you cared
Now confined, never leaving that room
Just this many olives
Too young for hot tea
Past lives, long time ago
Sad you are no longer here
Your imprint on us
You saw the world through these
Brighten my day
Us making things
You are –
Co-authored by the ‘Objects and Memories’ project team and
participants from Rotherham Hospice Day Unit, 2015
Dying at Home - Briefing and Presentation
The Patient's Family and End of Life