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