Creativity and death – not so strange bedfellows


I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of fellow GP and writer Leah Kaminsky’s “we’re all going to die“.

I have posted about before about the need to have conversations about death and dying in A better death and revealed some of my own journey after loved ones died in The healing power of creativity.

I’m delighted to report that Leah’s “joyful book about death” has exceeded my every expectation. My copy now has many turned page corners to mark sentences and passages that I want to come back to again.

we’re all going to die” added to the books that have most inspired me:

Favourite books for inspiration smaller kB (1024x768)


Far from being gloomy, the back cover of we’re all going to die says “by facing and accepting our coming death, we can all learn to live in a more vital, fearless and truthful way.”

Refreshingly honest, touchingly personal, and always with deep and respectful consideration of how difficult thinking about death and dying can be, this book has triggered lots of thoughts for me about how we can make more of our lives while not ignoring the inevitable presence of death, be it far or near, in relation to ourselves or those we love. (You can see my review here.)

In the context of my blog theme this year (what we can learn from the world around us and the characters within it, what inspires or heightens our creativity and how we can harness these influences), death and creativity might seem strange companions, and yet there are strong connections.


So looking at creativity through the lens of certain death in our lives, and building on we’re all going to die:

  • Being creative helps us fully experience life. A creative person who doesn’t express their creativity is not fully living.
  • Allow time for creativity. Creative results can’t be forced, but they need to be given the opportunity to materialise. What needs to be done, needs to be done – but don’t waste time on less important or unfulfilling activities.
  • Get your creativity out onto the page, canvas or preferred medium. If you die with your creative project inside, it will never see the light of day. You never know what is around the corner. Just get started and keep going.
  • Use your creativity to help you deal with death and the emotions it brings. Personal and professional experience has taught me that being creative can help us access emotions that we might otherwise struggle to face and this can help us heal as best we can, sometimes much later.
  • Use your creativity to honour the dead. This may take the form of a personal tribute or dedication, a creative ritual to help you remember your loved one or just knowing that spending time being creative can be a form of showing respect.
  • Let creativity help us to have conversations about death and dying. Leah talks about “death denialism”, pointing out that we have sanitised death. Creativity is one way we can make death real and challenge our feelings in a deeply respectful way.
  • Be kind and compassionate towards others. This was a strong take-home message from Leah’s book, and applying this to the creative theme, use kindness and compassion to foster and encourage others’ creativity. I have previously blogged about kindness in The best cuppa ever – don’t forget even the small things count.
  • Feed your creativity, and your joy in life itself, by surrounding yourself with beauty wherever you can. Things and spaces we love are important, but this extends beyond material beauty to meaningful relationships, listening to music that speaks to you or hearing the rain outside, wearing a scent you adore or a soft scarf you love the feel of, sitting in the sunshine and soaking up nature when you go for a walk – beauty in all senses. The corollary is also true – sometimes we need to cull that which means less to us.


Thank you to the lovely Leah Kaminsky for her frank exploration of her own confrontation with death and for inspiring this post (which can only but touch upon a few insights from Leah’s book).

Unashamed fangirl photo from the launch of “we’re all going to die (Leah is on the left):

Photo credit: Dionne Lew (

Photo credit: Dionne Lew (

If you only had a limited time left, is there something creative you would wish you had done (or done more of)? If you feel bold enough to publically share your creative dream, please feel free to comment below. If you’d rather not comment, please make a start on your creative process anyway!

Are there other synergies that you can see between creativity and death? I’d love you to share your ideas in the comments section.


With best wishes for your creative health and that of our community.


P.S. If you’d like to be sure to catch my next post, please sign up to follow by email (your email address will be kept private and will not be spammed). You can also follow me on Twitter (@JacquieGS) and Facebook.


© 2016 Jacquie Garton-Smith


8 thoughts on “Creativity and death – not so strange bedfellows

  1. Another thoughtful post Jacquie and one that deeply resonates with me. As you know, I’m determined to write my Dad’s story to honour and preserve his memory. He firmly believed that while ever you were living you needed to be creating and dreaming about your next project, or what was the point of being alive. In doing just that, he lived his life fully right up to the end. There’s great comfort for me in knowing that. M

    • Your dad sounds like an amazing man Mairi – thank you so much for sharing his philosophy. Having the courage to write his story is a wonderful way of respecting his legacy. I can’t wait to read it xxx

  2. I like the gentle and direct way you introduced the connection between creativity and living well. When we have lived well, it seems like it might be easier to manage dying well, but I’m no expert. I have created works of art after the death of loved ones and even after my own serious illness. The expression is very therapeutic. Mostly I try to practice creativity each day if possible. I find it keeps me balanced and able to meet challenges with better perspective. Recently when going through a challenging time, I told my husband I just needed to photograph some light, so I grabbed my camera, which is my iPhone, and he accompanied me to the botanic garden. It was as if capturing the light in photos, also lighted the way for positive feelings within me. Thank you for this thought provoking post. Interesting to note that I have been inspired by nearly all the same books as you! And now I’m going to find ‘we’re all going to die’…

  3. This part: “The corollary is also true – sometimes we need to cull that which means less to us.” I’ve been craving for about three years now to just purge stuff. All kinds of stuff. Clothes I don’t wear. Gifts that were given to me. Souvenirs from long-ago trips. Sports equipment I haven’t used for 10+ years. All the stuff. I feel like it’s impeding on my creativity not only by occupying space in my home, but also space in my head! The next 30 days; I’m telling you, I’m going to get serious about it!!

    Thanks for a great post about what sounds like a great book, which I hope to one day read!

    • Great to hear from you Laura and every best wish for your cull – I know I need to do the same.

      I often think about the point that we don’t make a change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change. It is time-consuming and a lot of effort to have a clear out, but we usually feel better for it!

      It is hard to get around the but-I-might-need-it/use-it/wear-it barrier, but I find unwanted but well-intended gifts the most difficult to part with.

      On the upside, I have got much better at asking myself “Do I REALLY need that?” about anything I buy now, and always try to cull at least something to make space for any new clothes … but not the same value as a thorough “purge”.

      I do like your idea of setting a timeframe in which you want to achieve it and hope it is every bit the creatively-uplifting experience you crave. x

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