As a professional who works with people near the end of life, I am often asked how I can handle seeing death on a daily basis. We human beings would rather not think about the end of life, and people can face a major psychological upset when they are forced to deal with the reality of death, such as when a loved one dies. Our modern American culture is especially big on worshiping youth and hoping against hope that aging and death can be put off as long as possible.
The thing is, we cannot deny death forever, and when our thoughts do turn to death, either by choice or by force of circumstance, it helps to share those meditations with others. In fact, artists of all stripes have explored the topic of human mortality over the centuries, and when the bare objective facts of death are inadequate to describe its raw, emotional impact, works of art can help to fill that gap in the human experience.
The Pallimed Arts and Humanities Blog is one of four Pallimed blogs, all of which focus on various aspects of hospice and palliative care. As you might expect from its name, the Arts and Humanities blog focuses specifically on how artists working in various media portray death, dying, grief, and related topics. In this little corner of the world wide web, we can examine and ponder death at a more comfortable distance than we can when we know and love a particular person who is dying. At the same time, these works of art can draw us into a deeper exploration of uncomfortable topics than we might have on a more regular basis.
The site is undergoing a bit of an update right now so not all of the links are functioning (this is a volunteer-based labor of love, after all!), but posts arrive weekly, and the archives are definitely worth exploring. No time period or form of art is off-limits. Here are a few of my favorite posts:
Bedrich Smetana’s “Piano Trio in G Minor” features a beautiful, haunting piece that I hadn’t heard before.
Death on a Pale Horse examines several pieces of visual art all derived from one Biblical image.
Sufjan Steven’s “Casimir Pulaski Day,” one of my favorite songs of all time, is an intimate view of one young person’s experience of a friend’s death.
If you are dealing with the recent loss of a loved one or otherwise working through death issues on a more personal level, do be aware that you could have some unexpected reactions to the posts on this site. You might also have some fresh insights, too, and the one thing that will make this site even more valuable is for more people to comment on the posts and their reactions to them. Then, the Pallimed Arts and Humanities blog can be a place for everyone to consider death in an intentional way.