Monday, June 29, 2009

The Goodbye Boat

There is a vast amount of children's literature available about death. I wanted to review one such book I came across recently. It is a visually beautiful book, with sweeping oil paintings depicting the metaphor of death as leaving on a boat. The book "The Goodbye Boat" is by author Mary Joslin and is illustrated by Clarie St. Louis Little.

There are few words in this book, leaving the message to be portrayed visually. Two grandchildren are depicted with their grandmother. At first they are at play in summer by the beach. Then in the sunset a ship approaches. The grandmother waves goodbye and as the climate turns to winter the boat sails away. However as summer comes again the message is clear, with the children once again playing on the beach and happy.

The final phrase of the book, "yet when the boat is gone from view it's surely sailing somewhere new" is meant to provide hope after all of the sadness.

I like that this book gives its message in short words like "wondering", "weeping" and "lonely days". These phrases coupled with the moving pictures would surely help instigate conversations with children reading it.

In fact, in one of the reviews on, I noted a reviewer said she read this book to her grandnieces after a death, and they asked to re-read it multiple times, each time asking new thoughtful questions about death.

I also like the various metaphors. The seasons that match the emotional responses is nice touch. The boat metaphor I like better than the "going to sleep" metaphor which can be confusing for young kids. However, this too can be confusing if the child assumes this as concrete fact. As one review pointed out, a child may assume the boat will come back... awaiting their loved ones return.

I also appreciated that the boat was seen approaching, long before the grandmother left on it. Although very much an ideal, it gives the sense that one can prepare and have a chance to say goodbye.

I think if I had to pick my favorite page of the book it would be this one below, with the words "wondering,". I encounter this feeling more often on a daily basis, doing palliative medicine work, than any of the other expected feelings of sadness, anger, etc. You can see the sad frustration and unknown in the expressions of the kids as well as the grandmother herself. Wondering is experienced by both patients and families, as well as with those of us in the medical world.

Joslin, Mary. "The Goodbye Boat" Eerdmans Books For Young Readers: Grand Rapids, Michigan. Copyright 1998

Monday, June 29, 2009 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Monday, June 22, 2009


Eulogy is a 2004 comedy surrounding a "dysfunctional" family dealing with the death of the family patriarch. I've seen it described as a "black" or "dark" comedy. Probably fits.

The film begins with the family finding out about the death of Edmund Collins and then heading home to his funeral. Some members are upset over the death, some are upset about the inconvenient time. It is focused around the granddaughter Kate, a college freshman (and possibly the most normal person of the group) who has been asked to deliver the eulogy at her grandfather's funeral. Amongst the group of 4 children and 6 grandchildren, Kate seems to be the only one really concerned over Edmund's death. The rest of the family seems preoccupied with their old fights and issues.

Meanwhile, Charlotte, the widow, who is seemingly distraught over the death of her husband and her children feuding, attempts suicide. More than once.

During the course of the film, secrets come out about the surviving family members and about the departed. If I had to sum up the theme of the movie it would be, "We may be screwed up but in the end we're family." I'm not going to give away the end, but Kate finds a way to eulogize the grandfather who no one really ever completely knew. I like the funeral scene.

This film made me think a lot about dysfunctional families. It's not a term I use lightly. After seeing a lot of different types of families, I have begun to think that what we call "dysfunction" is often just functioning differently than the norm. What is normal anyway?

Monday, June 22, 2009 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 2

Monday, June 15, 2009

Gallery: "Afterlife"

Time again to pick a theme and look at some contemporary artwork that deals with it. Having just posted about digital afterlife, I began looking for current artists' material on the subject.

As with the topic of "pain" art, the idea of "afterlife" is very subjective. If anything, these works all have a bit of the surreal to them. As they should; unlike pain, none of us has been able to live through what comes after life and then document it from personal experience. These are works of the imagination, and so being, can be playful at times.

This first image entitled "Afterlife" is a mixed media piece by Donald McIntosh. There is a body on the left, separated from the complicated gears/machine like area on the right.

I came across an art site on the web that chooses themes for their artists to contribute to. They actually have an entire art pack dedicated to the theme "afterlife". The site is called Slashtree, and of those in the collection, I've picked out my two favorites to display. The first is the piece entitled "Afterlife" by Maciej Mizer. A link to the full image here shows how detailed this work is. A very imaginative creation with people, homes, castles, hot air balloons and even a McDonald's sign.

This next work from Slashtree, although not entitled "afterlife", asks the question behind the concept. The title of this work is "What will it be?" by Dominik. The subject in this work swings or dances, giving the viewer a sense that the answer to the question is at least playful and nothing to be scared of.

Finally, a bronze sculpture entitled "Afterlife Afterthought" (2005) by artist Emil Alzamora. This 8 foot structure to me depicts the out-of-body concept so many people speak about in near death experiences. Both images are of the same piece.

Just a small representation of contemporary works contemplating afterlife. In the future we'll look at some historical works of art with the same theme. As you can imagine the historical works have quite a different approach.

Monday, June 15, 2009 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Monday, June 8, 2009

Seasons in the Sun

I came across this song while researching for the Top 10 List. Seasons in the Sun was a remake of the Belgian song by Jacques Brel "Le Moribund" or "The Dying Man". This better known English version was recorded by Terry Jacks in 1974.

I find it interesting that, while the English version was a remake, Jacks changes a lot of the meaning of the song.

Goodbye to you, my trusted friend.
We've known each other since we're nine or ten.
Together we climbed hills or trees.
Learned of love and ABC's,
skinned our hearts and skinned our knees.
Goodbye my friend, it's hard to die,
when all the birds are singing in the sky,
Now that the spring is in the air.
Pretty girls are everywhere.
When you see them I'll be there.
We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.
But the hills that we climbed
were just seasons out of time.
Goodbye, Papa, please pray for me,
I was the black sheep of the family.
You tried to teach me right from wrong.
Too much wine and too much song,
wonder how I get along.
Goodbye, Papa, it's hard to die
when all the birds are singing in the sky,
Now that the spring is in the air.
Little children everywhere.
When you see them I'll be there.
We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.
But the wine and the song,
like the seasons, all have gone.
Goodbye, Michelle, my little one.
You gave me love and helped me find the sun.
And every time that I was down
you would always come around
and get my feet back on the ground.
Goodbye, Michelle, it's hard to die
when all the bird are singing in the sky,
Now that the spring is in the air.
With the flowers ev'rywhere.
I whish that we could both be there.
We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun.
But the stars we could reach
were just starfishs on the beach

Now compare those words to that of the original. (Sorry not the best video but it has English subtitles, which, as I speak no French, I found very helpful.)

In the French version of this song, it was meant to be understood that this was a man about to commit suicide (although he doesn't quite come out and say it). In Jacks version, he could have been dying of anything. Jacks also takes out the infidelity that plays a huge part in the French version.

I think Jacks takes all of the bite out of the song. When I first read the words to Le Moribund, I thought it seemed like a suicide note. The singer is saying goodbye to some of the people in his life and seems to be almost blaming others. Seasons in the Sun didn't seem like this at all. Just a man saying goodbye. Not nearly so dark.

Monday, June 8, 2009 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, June 1, 2009

Digital afterlife

Digital technology is changing just about everything we do, including death.

It used to be more simple. One died, then according to one's will, family took possession of what remained and kept or destroyed journals and pictures accordingly. Obituaries were in the local newspaper and sympathy cards were mailed. The digital world has altered it all and created many new legal questions that are yet to be resolved.

For one, what happens to all your email and online accounts? Unless specified in your will then it really depends. If family members know your passwords, they may be able to sift through and even keep things like your facebook page and twitter accounts "alive" after you are gone. In fact, some use these accounts as a place for virtual mourning. People can post condolences on facebook pages, post pictures in remembrance, etc. A digital memorial may ensue.

Here's an example of a facebook memorial. This example is of a specific memorial created as a group after this person died. People join and leave comments of condolence. The other way memorials are created are when people leave messages on the deceased profile page. What many find different in the way of typical condolences is that people then address the deceased personally. These few examples are from an 18 year old girl who died in March of this year in Colorado Springs:

"I hope alls well up there. we're gonna miss you an awful lot down here."
"I walked into church today and thought I saw you walking across the foyer. Just so you know, there's a girl that looks so much like you it's insane."
"hey girl hey. so this morning I had the horror (or pleasure?) of waking up to a giant bushy squirrel. ... obviously I thought of you and our mutual squirrel obsession."

If this makes you a bit squeamish with uncertainty, there are new companies out now to help sort through the thorny issues of digital afterlife.

Legacy Locker was created this year as a "safe and secure way to pass your online accounts to your friends and loved ones". For a small fee you can assign what you want done with your digital property. You can store passwords to favorite accounts and designate what you want done with these after you die.

As for digital memorials, well known site has a large market. For a small fee, you can create a digital legacy, with photos and video, a link to the paper obituary and even a guest book for friends to sign. Of course, to keep it up and online, you must continue to pay a fee each year. The site has some online current examples here. has combined the ideas of legacy locker with by allowing the person themselves to pre-design their own memorial. They offer a way to store financial and legal papers on line, as well as upload photos and videos. You get to write your own story and then you choose who gets invited to open this lock box of goodies after you die. With this service, once you die, no one can change what you've already uploaded and designed. The site guarantees staying in existence at least 25 years after you die.

One thing is certain, this is just the beginning. If you thought the term "digital afterlife" was a novelty, just wait a few years and see where things are!

Monday, June 1, 2009 by Amy Clarkson · 8