Monday, December 26, 2011

Reality Television Showcases End of Life Themes

The finale of the reality television show Work of Art: The Next Great Artist aired last week. This show is like a lot of reality shows. The artists are each week given a topic or project to make a work of art. Each week an artist is voted off by a panel of judges. In the finale, the three top artists spent three months creating their solo exhibitions. What I found interesting is that 2 of the 3 shows were partially or Linkcompletely themed around death.

Young Sun, one of the finalists, show was entitled Bool-sa-jo and was focused around the illness and then death of his father. Written on the exhibit was a conversation between Sun and his mother.

"My sweet bool-sa-jo," she called him. Mom stroked Dad's cheek.
"What does that word mean?" I asked.
"Phoenix," she replied. "He's survived so many operations, strokes, chemo.
He keeps living. That's why I call him that. I think he'll live longer than me!"
Finding a balance between closure and remembrance isn't easy.
Bool-sa-jo at once an epilogue and a tribute to the process of loss and healing amongst family"

Kymia Nawabi, the winner of the finale, had an exhibit entitled Not For Long, My Forlorn. Her work focused around life cycles, including death and life after death. Below is a poem at her exhibit and then a video of Kymia talking about her work.

All in that body
Allin your spirit and soul
What of it next?
More glimmer of gold

Look to the Ouroboros
Its beginnings and ends
Sacred scared warrior
Shed your skin again

Onward and all ways
You fight for the grave
Have great faith in yourself
Cosmic paths are paved

So, no for long my forlorn
For the fight in this life is brief
They sheathe each end
With your spirit, never to sleep

The exhibits can be seen on the shows website here.

Monday, December 26, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, December 12, 2011

L'Inconnue de la Seine

I am a huge fan of Radiolab, and happened to hear their story of the Resusci Anne, or CPR Annie, recently. I thought Pallimed Arts readers would enjoy this as it fits well into our field.

Most of us at some time have at least seen CPR Annie, others of us have actually pounded on her chest, and preformed mouth to mouth as we went through the CPR steps.  The same face has been used since the beginning of CPR training in the 1960s and Annie remains the most popular CPR manikin face.

This face is not just a plastic computer generated face either. There is a unique history to Resusci Anne.  The designer of Annie is Asmund Laerdal, a Norwegian toy maker.  Laedral agreed to participate in this new training idea when friend Dr. Peter Safar, the father of CPR, asked. Laedral, however, needed inspiration and so while visiting his parents he noticed an attractive mask of a woman's face on their wall and knew immediately this would be his model. The face he saw was actually a death mask, known as "L'Inconnue de la Seine"

If you need a refresher on Death Masks, Amber talked about it in a post a while ago. They are plaster casts made of someone's face, soon after death, used as a memento.

"L'Inconnue de la Seine" actually means the 'unknown woman of the Seine'.  The story goes that this beautiful woman was pulled out of the river Seine in Paris in the 1880's.  Her beauty struck the workers at the morgue, so a death mask was created. The reason for her death was guessed to be suicide and from there her legend grew. In time reproductions were created and people captivated by her unknown identity and beauty began to display the mask in their homes as art.  

Her identity to this day is unknown, but this has not stopped her allure. She was a bit of a sensation, especially in the 1920's and 30's, and well known writers such as Richard le Gallienne, Jules Supervielle, Claire Goll  and Anias Nin mentioned L'Inconnue in their works.  

The Radiolab episode commented on the irony of this whole story. The unknown beautiful lady who drowned, is now symbolically resuscitated in CPR classes around the world, over and over again.

I found a deeper irony in my research. Both Peter Safar and Asmund Laerdal had children who required resuscitation. Asmund's son nearly drowned in 1954 at the age of 2, and his Asmund, despite not knowing CPR, was able to revive him. Dr. Safar had a daughter with severe asthma, who had a tragic asthma attack in 1966. Dr. Safar was able to resuscitate her with CPR, however she had anoxic trauma and died several days later.

I would highly recommend a listen to Radiolab's piece, as they interview Laerdal's son and do a superb job telling this story.   Most of all, the next time you do CPR training, remember the story of the "L'Inconnue de la Seine" as you do your, "Annie, Annie, are you okay?"

Monday, December 12, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 1

Monday, December 5, 2011

Memorial Golf Park

We have done posts that featured unusual cemeteries in the past. I've heard people make comments about where they would want to be buried or the cemetery or plot they picked out. As Amy pointed out in her post, most people pick out there cemetery based on family reasons. A recent NPR story, highlighted a very interesting kind of cemetery for those who choose their cemetery based on their favorite hobby. Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Bellevue, Washington has created a Memorial Golf Park.

The Memorial Golf Park isn't an entire golf course. It is one complete hole including a tee-box, 820-square-foot green, fairway and sand trap. It's the first of its kind.

The concept was developed by Arne Swanson, the market director for the park and a golfer himself. He apparently got the idea when he saw a group of golfers spreading ashes at the golf course. "My thought was that there were likely other golfers who would like to be memorialized amid the surroundings of a verdant, peaceful golf course." He also liked that it would give the families a place they could visit to remember their loved one, not just a random spot in the middle of a public golf course.

As the NPR story pointed out, it seems unlikely this trend will pick up amongst other sports (a tennis player under a tennis court etc.) But it did get me thinking. If you could design your own special cemetery, what would it be?

Thanks to Thomas Quinn who sent me the link to this story.

Monday, December 5, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, November 21, 2011

"The End"

I recently came across an educational computer game called "The End".  The game was developed by UK broadcaster Channel 4, specifically their C4 education branch.   Channel 4 commissioned the software developer Preloaded to write the program, geared specifically to 14-19 year olds.  The game also just earned a BIMA Award for "Best Game" this month.

The producer Charles Batho says, "The End sets out to level the playing field, presenting a variety of views about life and mortality from famous thinkers of our time. It's not a non-religious game, just philosophical"

I found it interesting that in designing the game, the producers actually interviewed 14 - 19 year olds, asking them about death, even having them draw out their ideal funeral.

The game starts after you design your own character. In the first moments in suburbia, a meteor falls from the sky and your character is whisked into the afterlife. There are several objectives at hand, as you explore 3 different worlds.  First is to collect "death objects", you do this by playing logic games at the end of each level.  There are also quotes about death and living by famous people interspersed throughout the level.

The level itself is peaceful. The character walks and jumps around collecting stars and light. No worries if you fall off a cliff, your character is already dead, so you get as many re-trys as you want.

A sub theme to this game is self identity. There are yes/no questions in each level that you must answer. These questions are purely personality driven, for example, "Is it possible to be happy simply living in the moment?" and "Would you still be yourself if your mind was put into another body?"

Each question you answer gives a more accurate plotting on something called the Death Dial.  This aligns your personality with other famous thinkers.  These questions then become a conversation piece as those who play the game can ask others what their philosophy is.

The best news- the game is free.  You can play it this moment at

For such a heavy topic the developers did a good job making something approachable, fun, and slipping in a little philosophy as well.

Monday, November 21, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Great Gig in the Sky

Buried in the middle of Pink Floyd's album, The Dark Side of the Moon, I never really paid a lot of attention to this song, The Great Gig in the Sky. I actually always thought it was a bit strange. It has very few words and these are difficult to understand. The only lyrics are spoken:

"And I am not frightened of dying. Any time will do, I don't mind. Why should I be frightened of dying? There's no reason for it — you've got to go sometime."

Near the end of the song (around 3:30), spoken very, very quietly: "I never said I was frightened of dying." Although song lore states that it is actually "if you hear this whispering, your dying".

The remainder of the song consists of a woman, Clare Tory, wailing to the music.

The song initially started out as organ music accompanied by Bible verses and passages from religious speeches. This earlier version was called "The Mortality Sequence". When they recorded the song, they changed the organ music to piano and worked with various types of sounds for the main "lyrics" such as NASA communications. They finally decided to go with the wailing.

So other than the title, how is this song about death? When Richard Wright was initially writing the sequence, he wasn't thinking death. Some pointed out that the song starts out slow, gets loud and angry then drifts off and this has been compared to death. (I haven't seen a lot of deaths that start out slow then get angry, but the drifting off I can see.) Some have compared the wailing to crying, grief, mourning. Others feel the wailing is supposed to be full of fear, terror. I guess that would refer back to the fear of dying lines spoken at the beginning of the song.

Monday, November 14, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Skeleton Art

Happy Halloween everyone!  Traditionally here at Pallimed Arts we've used the Halloween holiday to focus on skeleton art.  In years past we've looked at the incredible drawings of Laurie Lipton and the breathtaking work of Kris Kulski which incorporates skeletons.

Even more broad, this year I decided to just find some great pumpkin art.  Using skeleton's as a theme, this is a compilation of pumpkin skeleton carvings.  If you've procrastinated this year and need some ideas, perhaps one of these will interest you.

In an effort to provide something educational, does everyone know the history of carving pumpkins?

This tradition stems from folklore told in Ireland, Scotland and England. The tale goes that a man by the name of "Stingy Jack" tricked the Devil into promising not to take his soul when he died. The nature of these tricks varies from region to region. In one story, Jack carved a cross in a tree the devil had climbed, trapping him until the promise was made. Jack ultimately dies and because of his orneriness is not allowed into Heaven.  The devil holds his bargain as well, not allowing Jack into Hell.  He's left to wander the earth as a soul. Jack begs for a light as he wanders, and the Devil kindly tosses him an eternal ember from Hell.  Jack then carves a lantern out of a turnip for the light.  He henceforth becomes known as Jack of the Lantern... or Jack -O-Lantern. The lantern became a part of rural superstition, as carved faces in the lantern were meant to ward off evil spirits as one walked in the dark. The lanterns were then placed on porches to guard the house overnight.  On the left is an example of a traditional carved turnip lantern.
As people from the British Isles immigrated to the US, their autumn traditions continued, however instead of turnips, they used the more abundant and larger pumpkins. As time went by the carved pumpkin became associated with the Halloween holiday.  Now, as the pictures suggest, this creative decor has evolved into elaborate creations!

Monday, October 31, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 1

Monday, October 24, 2011


No, it's not an virtual autopsy. When I first heard the name of this internet company, that was my first guess. Written on the main page of their website is the message "Build your Immortality because Life is worth it". This is a new company which specializes in the "long term preservation of the digital memory of deceased people." Their claim is that their two web applications are "destined to change forever the way people deal with Death." That's a lot to live up to (pun intended).

I-Postmortem recently released and I-Memorial is site that allows you to build your own memorial. One can post last messages to family, leave funeral instructions and last wishes. You can actually put up digital copies of wills, insurances policies etc. and have them sent to specific loved ones at the time of your demise.

I-Tomb is meant to be a virtual cemetery of sorts. Family members can put up videos, audio files and written messages in memory of the deceased. A family can just set up an I-Tomb or the I-Tomb can come from an I-Memorial account. How I understood it is that an I-Memorial becomes an I-Tomb once the author has passed. Prior to death the author designates someone to declare them dead (a "Death Declarator"). After declared dead, the personalized messages are sent out to the proper recipients or posted to the I-Tomb, whatever the author specified. The site specifically states that the switch over is irreversible, so I guess make sure someone is really dead before declaring.

This does come at a cost, but not too bad. An I-Memorial account is $120 per year and an I-Tomb is $50 per year. But you can plan ahead and prepay for up to 20 years in advance.

I don't know that this is destined to change how we deal with death but it does seem interesting. The I-Memorial is a bit Type A personality for me. I'm just not that much of a planner. I'm more interested in the I-Tomb/virtual cemetery concept. That is something I can actually see myself doing for a loved one.

Monday, October 24, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, October 10, 2011

Motoi Yamamoto

There are multiple ways an artist may choose to deal with personal grief.  Some allow the theme of their work to capture their feelings. Artist Motoi Yamamoto has taken his grief work one step further by choosing a medium that itself is symbolic of death.

Yamamoto was in art school in 1996 when his 24 year old sister died, just two years after her diagnosis of brain cancer. Immediately he began to use art as a way to deal with his grief. His exploration led him to the medium of salt, which is a part of the death ritual in Japan. At the end of funerals, mourners are handed salt to sprinkle on themselves as a way to ward of evil spirits.

Not only is salt a funeral ritual, it is also allows his masterpieces to be impermanent. When the exhibit is finished, the piece is destroyed, and visitors are encouraged to take some salt and place it back in the sea. Symbolic, I think, of human life; a masterpiece that must come to an end, and the body returned back to the elements from which it was formed.

To create the works, Yamamoto uses a simple plastic bottle, often taking 50 hours or more to complete. The amount of salt used is expansive, in the range of 2000 pounds and up.

When you look at his installations, it is obvious that the process is tedious and time consuming. This too is intentional, as Yamamoto said in an interview with the Japan Times, "I draw with a wish that, through each line, I am led to a memory of my sister... That is always at the bottom of my work. Each cell-like part, to me, is a memory of her that I call up"

I find the work breathtaking in both the intricacy and the overall finished project.

To see a video of Yamamoto at work see below or follow this link.

Monday, October 10, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Monday, October 3, 2011

You Just Have to Laugh

At a recent event, I had the opportunity to watch the documentary, You Just Have to Laugh. This comedic documentary was appropriately put together by a comedian, David Naster. The impetus behind making the film was apparently a show Naster did in a church in Kansas. Afterward, a man came up and thanked Naster, saying that it had been the first time he had laughed since his son had died.

From there, Naster began exploring the topic of how we use laughter to get through the tough times. In his documentary, he interviews many different people in difficult situations, such as a gentleman with MS, a firefighter who was severely burned, people with tourettes syndrome. One interview was of a psychiatrist with a stutter talking about his experiences working a suicide hotline. Another is of a concentration camp survivor talking about the humor they found in the most horrible tasks. (The documentary points out that we may not find all these experiences funny but if it helps one cope with such a horrible situation, it was funny to them.)

Below is a video clip of Naster talking about his philosophy on laughter and death. Working on a hospice team, this really struck a cord with me.

Naster has also written books on this topic, the most recent Is there Laugh after Death? looks at stories of hospice workers and families of dying patients.

While I don't think Naster's documentary is widely available, it appears to be available at his website.

Monday, October 3, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 1

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Last Outfit

The Lien Foundation has done it again.  They're making us smile by doing unconventional projects that incorporate ideas about dying into the arts.  Like their project "Happy Coffin" done as apart of the overall Life Before Death campaign, the Last Outfit project attempts to reduce the stigma that surrounds death and dying.

This photographic project was instigated by the The Straits Times, a leading Singapore newspaper, who partnered with the philanthropic Lien Foundation. Eight professional photographers captured 23 subjects in their outfit of choice for burial.

Most burial outfits are favorite clothing picked out by a patient just prior to death, or very often picked by family members. The idea traditionally is not about creativity, but respectful formal wear.

The thought from the Last Outfit project was, what if this were changed? What if our final outfit was a statement about who we are? This personal flare is quite obvious in the photographs taken.  Lee Poh Wah, CEO of the Lien Foundation says, "Each exit outfit is one that best expresses the subjects' unique life. Their outfits and candid attitude have given us a fresh and fun perspective on how to deal with death. If there's something like funeral fashion,they are setting a trend by wearing their souls on their sleeves"

One of the subjects actually was on hospice for this project. Madam Foo Piao Lin had cancer and took her role more seriously. She chose an expensive cheongsam, which she had never owned, for her final outfit. She has since passed, byt her wish was fulfilled as she was buried in her cheongsam. She is pictured in the middle photograph in the series at the bottom.

The photographs are definitely conversation starters. I wonder, though, if faced with death like Madam Foo, if indeed these same outfits would be chosen.

What do you think? To those involved in hospice, how often is the last outfit actually brought up or discussed? Do you like the idea of creativity in a burial outfit or is it too much?

To scroll through the 23 images and read short bio's of the participants visit The Last Outfit web page.

Monday, September 19, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 2

Monday, September 12, 2011

Brendan's Death Song

When I was listening to the newest Red Hot Chili Pepper album, I'm with You, I discovered the song "Brendan's Death Song". The interesting lyrics really caught my attention. "Let me live, so when it's time to die, even the Reaper cries. Let me die so when it's time to live another sun will rise."

Brendan Mullen was a nightclub owner in LA. The Red Hot Chili Peppers credit him with giving the band their start. He was a friend to the band for many years and died in 2009, shortly after his 60th birthday, of a massive stroke.

The day the band found out about his death was the first day of rehearsal with their new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. From lead singer Anthony Kiedis, "When I got to rehearsal I delivered the news to my band that we had lost this beautiful person. And then we started playing without really talking. Probably the second thing that came out of that jam was the basis for Brendan's Death Song." Kiedis goes on to say that while the song does sound like a death march, they mean it to be a celebration. "My favorite part of the song came much later-which is the bridge section, where it gets quite dark for a moment and there's this feeling of falling into the unknown abyss of dying. So, yes, we lost of good man, but he had a very full life."

Well if I die before I get it done will you decide?
Take my words and turn them into signs they will survive,
Because a long time ago I knew not to deprive.
It's safe out there now your every where just like the sky,
And you are love, you are the lucid dream you are the ride
And when you hear this you know it's your jam it's your good bye

Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone
And when the drummer drums he's gonna play my song to carry me along
Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone
And when the boatman comes to ferry me away to where we all belong

We all cross when we were feeling lost it's just the time.
Kateri cried the day her lover died, she recognized,
Because you gave her a life of real love it's no surprise.
The nights are long but the years are short when you're alive,
Way back when will never be again it was a time.
It's gonna catch you so glad I met you to walk the line.

Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone
And when the drummer drums he's gonna play my song to carry me along
Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone
And when the boatman comes to ferry me away to where we all belong

Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone,
And when the drummer drums he's gonna play my song to carry me along.
Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone,
And when the boatman comes to ferry me away to where we all belong.
Let me live, so when it's time to die, even the Reaper cries.
Let me die so when it's time to live another sun will rise.

Yeah, yeah yeah, yeah yeah

Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone
And when the drummer drums he's gonna play my song to carry me along
Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone
And when the boatman comes to ferry me away to where we all belong
Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone
Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone
Like I said you know I'm almost dead, you know I'm almost gone

Monday, September 12, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, September 5, 2011

Casey Shannon

I came across this inspiring story of artist Casey Shannon.  Casey is an artist that lives in Carmel Valley, California. At the age of 36, already a mother, wife and high school art teacher, Casey had a massive left hemispheric stroke.  The stroke was debilitating, leaving her aphasic, wheel chair bound and with no use of the right side and little use of her left side.

She writes about the loss of identity and longing for her old self on her website here.  As a part of her recovery she learned about Wabi Sabi which is the Japanese tradition of celebrating the beauty in what's flawed or worn.  She also turned to art, writing that, "as soon as I could sit for more than just a minute in my wheelchair, I began practicing holding a pencil in my left hand and started doodling and scribbling and such. I intuitively knew that, for me, I needed to get drawing again. And fast, if I was going to save myself"

She ended up drawing 5 pictures a day, having incorporated it into her daily home rehab program. The act of creative expression helped to improve her self-worth and self-esteem.

It's been 19 years since her stroke, and Casey has regained her speech and the ability to walk, though has lost the use of her dominant right arm.  She continues to paint, teach and inspire other stroke survivors with her story.

Casey graciously includes art work on her website from before the stroke, during recovery and current pieces. The first piece above is a sketch done in the year or two prior to her stroke. Her drawings from her recovery period, are taken from about 4 years post stroke. At that point in her process she combined inspirational sayings with her drawings, like the picture to the right.

As she has recovered,  her style completely changed, not only because she now uses her left hand, but because she now does contemporary sumi-e paintings. Sumi-e painting incorporates meditation before painting. As Casey describes on her artist's page, "I concentrate on trying to capture spirit as the ink is transferred to the paper with the stroke of the brush....If your intention is correct, the object in the picture seems to 'breath and take on life'"

I find Casey's story a good reminder of the power art can play with our patients dealing with debilitating disease.

For more of Casey's paintings check out her galleries here.

Monday, September 5, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 0

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Morbid Tour

A few weeks back, when my husband and I were on vacation in London, we came across an interesting tour. There were lots of tours we saw advertised but this actually came highly recommended by friends. It was the Jack the Ripper Tour (there are actually several of them by different companies). It is a nighttime tour that goes through the streets and alleys of the Whitechapel area to sites of the famous murders. We ultimately didn't end up taking the tour. I thought I could go without experiencing London through the eyes of a serial killer. I've never felt the need to stand at the site of a famous murder. But many do enjoy this. This led me to do a little but of research on the topic.

Did you know that for $225-250 you can stay in infamous accused murderer Lizzie Borden's actual bedroom? You can take a tour of the house (now bed and breakfast) and museum. In Chicago, you can take the Devil in the White City Tour, which looks at serial killer Henry H. Holmes. In LA you can take a Helter Skelter bus tour to see the sites of the Manson murders. This Obit Magazine article talks about a Boston tour that plays up the sites of South Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger.

So where does historic interest turn into some morbid type of voyeurism? People visit sites like Auschwitz all the time. I've never really thought twice about this, as it seems like something that needs to be seen. (To me, I guess. Others may think differently.) So what makes this ok and the Helter Skelter Tour seem so wrong? Is it time passing? (How much time does need to pass before it is socially acceptable to start a bus tour?) The historic value of the site? A lesson you might take away?

I know that there are people who are just serial killer and famous murder buffs. Just like my husband loves WWII history and my sister is obsessed with the British monarchy, there are those that just find this sort of thing fascinating. It's a personal taste thing, I suppose. Maybe I just don't get why someone would want to be reminded of such horrible things. Isn't life difficult enough as it is?

Monday, August 29, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 3

Monday, August 22, 2011

A Book About Death

Artist Ray Johnson is mainly regarded as a correspondence artist, having founded something called the The New York Correspondence School, which basically is an ever changing group of people who send each other art work through the mail.

During 1963-65 Johnson produced 12 unbound pages of mail art for something called "A Book About Death". He sent these one page essays about death to other artists in the correspondence school. Johnson committed suicide in 1995 and in an effort to commemorate him the art project "A Book About Death" was started.
In 2009 artist Mathew Rose, taking inspiration from Johnson's death themed art pages, organized a massive exhibition of similar mail art.  The call went out to artists all across the world to submit postcards on the theme "A Book About Death".  The artists were to create 500 postcard copies of their pieces and mail them to the gallery of the exhibition.  During the show, which was held in September 2009, visitors could then collect postcards from the hundreds of artists and take the postcards home to create their own unique book about death.

Since the original ABAD show, there have no been 23 installments, as the project continues to move around the world with new additions continually.  Each ABAD exhibit is slightly different, some like the recent exhibit in May at the Willo North Gallery in Phoenix, Arizona called for postcards with a memento accompanying it.

The most recent ABAD project is open now, July 31- Sept 2 at the Second Avenue Firehouse Gallery in Long Island.  This unique exhibit is entitled "A Book About Death: The Ties That Bind".  The curator of the event LuAnn T. Palazzo asked artists to submit larger works on pages, one copy to be displayed on the wall for the exhibit and the other to be bound in a book on display during the show.

I've enjoyed browsing the images for the different shows, a few which are included here.  The interpretations on death are as diverse as they come.  Some of the pieces are accompanied by poems, like this piece below with image on one side, and the poem on the back of the post card.

To see the images yourself on a virtual wall go here. To scroll the images on a blog page you can visit the original ABAD site were each picture is posted as a blog entry here

I wonder if there would be a place to do some collage work as a self care session for hospice and palliative care in this way, or perhaps a work shop at a national convention resulting in a Hospice and Palliative Medicine edition to A Book About Death?

Art work credits from top to bottom:
Steve Dalachinsky
Laura Sharp Wilson
"The Call" Sophia Oldsman
"Sustenance" Kim Triedman

Monday, August 22, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 1

Monday, August 15, 2011

There's Something Wrong with Aunt Diane

This HBO documentary looks into the life and death of Diane Schuler. In 2009, Diane was involved in a head on collision that killed her daughter, 3 nieces, 3 men in the other vehicle and herself (her son was the only survivor). It analyzes Diane's life through her friends and the hours leading up to the accident through cell phone calls, police, eye witnesses and surveillance video. She had been noted to be driving erratically and then drove the wrong way on an interstate for 1.7 miles. An autopsy of Diane revealed a blood alcohol level of 0.19 and high level of marijuana in her system.

To Diane's grieving husband, she was a perfect wife and mother. He is adamant that she would never have drank while in the car with the children and that the results of the autopsy are false. He has contested these findings even after the discovery of a bottle of vodka in the car. He grasps at any possibility (a tooth abscess she had several years ago causing her to have a stroke which led to her drinking the alcohol by mistake).

What interested me are all of the interviews of the family members on both sides. Her husband, family members and friends reminiscing about the Diane they knew and looking for any answers, any other medical reasons she behaved the way she did. On the other side, the family members of the 3 men killed in the vehicle she hit, angry that her husband continues to deny what the evidence shows. (The parents of the three nieces killed did not participate in the documentary.) It even goes into the grief and trauma of the witnesses to the accident.

Most of what they present is from the view of Diane's husband and sister-in-law. You find yourself wanting to buy into their blind faith in Diane, even though you know what the evidence shows.

The documentary is very well put together. It easily moves from the accident to the distant past to the present. They integrate the medical and other evidence along with psychiatric assessments of the Diane and her family. (The graphic accident photos I could have done without). It's a medical mystery along with a unique perspective on grief. What happens if the person you are grieving is possibly at fault in the loss? Was she really the person that everyone thought they knew?

Monday, August 15, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ross Mackintosh "Seeds"

British graphic designer Ross Mackintosh lost his father in 2009 to prostate cancer.  Like many artists before him, he turned to art to process the events. In fact, he told Deborah Vankin in an interview for the Los Angeles Times, "I created the comic for myself, as a way of removing pictures and phrases from the maelstrom in my head. The secondary purpose was a subconscious need to express to my mom and brothers that the awful events didn't just happen quietly"

The medium he chose, however, was not his usual computer based work, but that of cartoon. Many of his memories and experiences were so visual that he decided to draw them out. The outcome is a stunning and beautiful tribute to Mackintosh's father. The graphic novel, published by Com.x in April is entitled "Seeds".

I was drawn immediately to the images;their minimalist nature serves the heavy topic well. The reader journeys from time of diagnosis to time of funeral. Interspersed in the narrative of the events are deeper concepts such as genetics, relationships and purpose.  Also accompanying the story are the very real moments of humor and tragedy. It is this combination that allows the reader to connect and perhaps even find their own personal stories in this work.

Mackintosh's father spent time in hospice and there is a great conversation where the physician communicates prognosis by saying "When people in your father's position deteriorate monthly, they usually have months to live....When they deteriorate weekly, they usually have weeks to live.... Your father has been deteriorating daily..."

The medium of cartoon really forces the themes and concepts to be whittled down to absolutes... gone is the ability to hide in verbose prose or get lost in mundane details. This really makes this graphic novel quite raw, and most of the reviewers I read mentioned reading with lumps in their throats, as the images and few words struck familiar nerves of mortality and loss.

This certainly is one that should be considered for our personal and/or palliative medicine libraries and it may very well attract unsuspecting readers going through the experience of loss.

All images are Copyright Ross Macintosh.

Monday, August 8, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 1

Monday, August 1, 2011

Your One Wild and Precious Life

A question popped into my head that I paused to ponder, despite the numerous tasks on my list waiting to be checked off (or more likely moved to the next day’s list)… how does one really describe self-care, fostering resilience, burnout avoidance, spirituality, humanities…? You get the idea.

When I think about them, it strikes me that they have large areas of overlap and often are one and the same. What helps us to keep doing what we are doing? What brings us joy? What helps us to be energized in our work and in our personal lives? What gives us a sense of peace and meaning? What helps us remember why we went into this field in the first place?

I’ve had a line from a song stuck in my head lately, one I hadn’t heard in a long time. Finally, while working at my desk, I listened to it. It is music which was gifted to me by Dale Lupu and sung by a lovely folk duet called A Glass of Water. The song is called “The Summer Day (Thompson)” and the lyrics are:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention,
How to fall down into the grass,
How to kneel down in the grass,
How to be idle and blessed,
How to stroll through the fields,
Which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one, wild, and precious life?

Read more »

Monday, August 1, 2011 by Holly Yang, MD · 0

Monday, July 25, 2011

Redemption Song

I discovered Redemption Song on the Rolling Stone top 500 songs list. It is listed as #66, stuck between #65 Sunshine of Your Love by Cream and #67 Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley. I had never heard it before, as I have never been acquainted with Bob Marley's music.

The song Redemption Song is the final song on Bob Marley's album Uprising, the last album that was released during his life time. (One more album, Confrontation, came out after his death.) The lyrics for the song were taken from a speech given by journalist and orator, Marcus Garvey. "We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind."

At the time Marley wrote Redemption Song, he had already been diagnosed with melanoma. He was already dealing with a lot of pain issues and his own mortality. Many consider it to be a sort of summing up of Marley beliefs and it is considered some of his best work.

Marley died in 1981 at age 36.

Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfill the Book.

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs.

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our mind.
Wo! Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them-a can-a stop-a the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Yes, some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfill the book.
Won't you have to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever had:
Redemption songs -
All I ever had:
Redemption songs:
These songs of freedom,
Songs of freedom.

Monday, July 25, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 2

Monday, July 18, 2011

Personalized Urns

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the cremation rate in the United States in 2009 was 36.86%, that's up from 25.04% in 1999.  The NFDA also predicts that the cremation rate will be just shy of 59% in 2025! With the rising trend in cremations, it's about time we did a post on urns.  We already know that we can be creative, as explored in our post on custom coffins, so it should be no surprise that custom urns also exist.

The urn itself is simply a vessel or vase without handles. The urn was used in ancient Greek and Roman times for oils, as well as cremation ashes.

Today after cremation, the options are quite diverse on what is done with the ashes. Many people scatter ashes, so have no need for an urn.  Other people use the urn for the ashes and have the entire thing buried in a cemetery plot or placed above ground in the cemetery columbarium (a specific place within a mausoleum for urns). Just like eco-friendly coffins, they also make bio-degradable urns. Another choice is to bring the urn with the ashes home, keeping the departed's remains with you at all times.

When an urn is used, there really is no industry standard. The typical size for an individual may be to hold 170-350 cubic inches, whereas the popular couple urns hold 400-500 cubic inches of ashes. Materials used range from paper, glass and wood, all the way to metals, ceramics and marble.  And if you thought shape mattered, this too is up for negotiation. Urns can look traditional and vase like, or look like an item. I even saw examples for photo frame urns and music box urns.

Looking around online I found several types of urn dealers.  First there is the mega market dealers.  These urns offered on these sites can be very unique, like these cowboy boot urns, and it's true that these mega market dealers have a lot of inventory, but you can also find these same urns on multiple sites. Therefore, the uniqueness is more in design and not truly a one of a kind urn. The urn's from these large scale dealer's are some of the most economical.

Next are the hand made artisan urns. These urns are made individually by artists. Sybil Sage, for instance does mosaic urns, embedded with personal items such as business cards and photos.

Portrait urns like the kind done by artist Ruby Lindell, are hand painted ceramic urns such this example on the right.

Then, of course, there are the eco-friendly urns. Traditionally eco-friendly urns are made of paper. Though I did find sand  urns meant to place in water.  There is also company known as the "Great Burial Reef" which designs an urn made of natural concrete. The idea is that the urn can be placed on the ocean floor and can foster marine life for future generations.

Unlike coffins, urn's offer an extremely wide variety of creative options, allowing a very personalized urn if desired. What I find interesting is that some of the urns look so much like traditional home decor, that the memorial could easily blend in, completely disguised to house guests.

Monday, July 18, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 1

Monday, July 11, 2011

Commemorating a Celebrity

June 25th, 2011 marked the second anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson. I find it very interesting how iconic celebrities like Jackson are commemorated.

The town of Gary, Indiana, Jackson's boyhood home, has promised a yearly tribute to the King of Pop. This outdoor event includes music, vendors and ends in a candlelight vigil at dusk. It's held at the old Jackson family home. On the first anniversary of his death the city unveiled a monument to Jackson.

Jackson's "Thriller" jacket (the red jacket worn in his Thriller video, seen above) was auctioned off for $1.8 million this year on the June 25th. Apparently a portion of the proceeds will go to the Shambala Preserve, home to Jackson's two Bengal tigers, Thriller and Sabu.

But my absolute favorite way that Jackson was commemorated was various dancing flash mobs. (Flash mobs have made the news a lot lately as there are apparently stealing flash mobs where a group mobs a store and just walks out with merchandise.) These are large groups of people getting together and suddenly breaking into dance. Since his death, these have occurred all over the world from China to Mexico. The video below was taken in Stockholm, Sweden in the weeks after Jackson's death. I found it impressive.

The video below was in San Francisco, this year.

Monday, July 11, 2011 by Amber Wollesen, MD · 0

Monday, June 27, 2011

Paul Hill "Corridor of Uncertainty"

Paul Hill is regarded as one of the most influential photographers of Great Britain and is best known for his work "White Peak, Dark Peak". (1990 Cornerhouse)  He has spent his life photographing and teaching photography near his home is in Derbyshire, Northern England.  One of the unique things he and his wife, Angela, did was in1976 to establish "The Photographer's Place", a location for photographers to gather for study, retreat, and a workshop environment.

After 40 years of marriage, Angela was diagnosed with cancer, and in 2006, 2 years after her diagnosis, died from the disease. Her husband then began his journey into an uncertain world without her.  His photographs became his response to the grief he was experiencing. His work was published in November and is entitled "Corridor of Uncertainty" (2010 Dewi Lewis Publishing)

The title itself is steeped in metaphor.  Although those of us in the states may be unfamiliar with the phrase, it actually comes from the sport of cricket, and refers to a place that a batsman struggles most to determine whether to play the ball or leave.  Apropos for someone mourning...  Paul Hill writes, "Bereavement, for me, is being between two states: what has been and what may take place in the future. The work that I have made mirrors this interstice"

We have seen other artists document death, but I found it interesting that he writes about his images, "Of course they are informed by the harrowing experience of my wife's fatal illness, but I did not - could not- document her decline directly."

When I glance through the images I am struck by the emotional nature of the pictures. Even had you not known his wife had died, looking through the images as a collection, you'd surely have felt that something tragic had occurred. The images are quite raw and intimate and I'm grateful that Paul Hill decided to share his process with us.

His book is not the end of the matter either, in fact, it seems to be just the beginning. Currently Paul Hill is involved in a research project looking at photography, bereavement and grief. A website at De Montfort University explains the hopes for the project.

I encourage you to take a minute to glance through some of the images from his book, follow this link to do so.

Monday, June 27, 2011 by Amy Clarkson · 0