Monday, May 21, 2012

Salle Des Departs

This is a unique one, and something I stumbled upon listening to an old podcast from Radiolab produced by NPR.

There is a town in France, situated in the suburbs of Paris called Garches. The town has a large trauma hospital, Raymond Poincare, where most of the vehicle accidents come to be treated. Unlike other hospitals that have similar amounts of death from chronic disease and trauma, this hospital has mostly trauma related deaths. In fact approximately 450 deaths a year from injuries. The pathologist began to notice that the trauma deaths had a negative impact on the family members ability to grieve.  Family members walking into this hospital were in shock, and came to claim the bodies of loved ones who were very much alive the last time they were seen.

Thus, a space was created in attempts to palliate the shock. It is both a chapel and a  morgue, where the body is placed for the family to view and say goodbye. The name of this room is Salle Des Departs (translated departure hall or room).  The room was designed by Italian artist Ettore Spalletti, and is meant to be relaxing and beautiful with blue tones and minimalism elements.  The space needed more than calming hues, so two music compositions were commissioned from David Lang and Robin Rimbaud (aka Scanner) to be played in the background if the family chose.

Interestingly, both Lang and Scanner had experiences with traumatic deaths in their past. Scanner, who's father had died in a motorcycle accident, identified with how the lack of formal mourning affected his family and used his own experience in his piece.

Lang, too, was very thoughtful in his work, writing a piece that could not be reproduced in a live setting. He felt that since the piece was about death, to be able to produce it in a live setting would be cheating. His instructions on the sheet music says "like angels", and through the production process, the female chorus never takes a breath, singing in an eternal, beyond human.

He said in the Radiolab episode, "I was trying to make the environment, that would have been the right environment for the experiences that I have already had."  He had to be careful, though, as music so powerfully can manipulate our emotions. He acknowledges this challenge saying, ""Music...bypasses all of your normal protection mechanisms, it goes to the place of you which is not dealing with language or rationality. ... it has this ability to go around all of your defenses. I wanted to make something which gave people permission to examine which way they wanted to go with their emotions."

I've listened to both pieces, which are very different. I wonder if families choose, or if one piece is always played first if they ask for music? In Scanner's piece you hear different voices, water, insects and birds pierced occasionally with synthesized keyboard music, whereas Lang's piece is simply 3 Cello's and female chorus.

You can listen to David Lang's "Departs" with some photos of the Salle Des Departs on Vimeo here.  To listen to the Radiolab podcast follow this link. The Scanner piece, "Channel of Flight" can be listened to if you have RealPlayer through a download here.

Monday, May 21, 2012 by Amy Clarkson · 1

Monday, May 7, 2012

Annie Tempest

Annie Tempest is a British cartoonist by trade, the author of  Tottering-by-Gently, a strip that runs in the UK magazine Country Life.  Most recently, however, she's moved into sculpting and had an exhibition in London this past month called "Play as Cast"

Her sculpting, like so many other artists, became a way to deal with the grief of the death of her son.  Freddy Tempest McConnel died last May, at the age of 18, of a heroin overdose. Annie said in an interview with Louette Harding of The Daily Mail,  "That's how I've been dealing with it. I haven't seen therapists; it's sculpting that has kept me going. Because it wasn't just on 28 May and afterwards; before that, we'd been through the highs and lows of recovery and relapse...It's been hope, crash, hope, crash - heights as well as depths... my sculpture has helped me through."

How many of our patients and families use those same terms dealing with terminal illness? "Hope, crash, hope, crash..." they talk about the roller coaster they're on, even in the last days.

 One piece that is not on display is something she did right before he died and about which she had her last conversation with her son.  She says of the piece, "A week before Freddy's death, I knew in my heart he was gone.." She describes it as, "Two figures, fighting to hold on and to let go. It's a goodbye...It looks like a fight, but it's also a hug...It's two adults hugging and pushing. I was a primal scream." She actually sent her son a picture of the piece and his emailed reply to that was her last communication with him, he wrote "Mum, I absolutely understand and love your sculpture, I'm sorry. I so want to beat this. Love, Fred."
Solace and Seclusion

Although I haven't seen the piece, I think this too would be something our patient's families would resonate with.  There is a pushing and pulling when a loved one dies; we want them to stay but don't want them to suffer - what a great visual of a hug/push.

Each of the pieces communicates so well with the use of three dimensional space. I encourage you to see all of the images from the gallery at this link.

As an aside. Freddy was an aspiring musician, and tragically one of the songs he wrote, "Will You Remember Me" is about an early death. You can listen to this and other songs at

To read more from the interview with Louette Harding go here

Monday, May 7, 2012 by Amy Clarkson · 0