Dying With Dignity

By Julia Alsop

When it comes to death, most of us would…prefer not to. Not to talk about it, think about it, or be it. But a growing number of doctors, nurses and regular old mortals are encouraging us to start planning for the great hereafter. Or, at least the slow process of dying in the age of modern medicine. Join Julia Alsop as she has ‘the talk’.

Nancy Gershman is a digital artist and personal historian who works out of her studio, Art For Your Sake and is a “memory artist” at Visiting Nurse Service of NY/ Haven Hospice in Bellevue Hospital. She created these fantasy memories for people and their loved ones during their final days. She also co-hosts, Death Café New York City and is the creator of Tragicomedia, an oral history project where she interviews “funny people” to teach mental health professionals and the bereaved about the healthy ways comedians process loss and regrets. Check out more of her work here.

Suzanne O’Brien is a hospice nurse living in Poughkeepsie, NY. She offers free certified death doula training. You can sign up for free her webinars at her website.

Timothy W. Kirk, PhD is currently assistant professor of philosophy at the City University of New York-York College where he specializes in philosophy of nursing and healthcare ethics with an emphasis on hospice and palliative care. In addition to his appointment at CUNY, he serves as ethics consultant to VNSNY Hospice and Palliative Care and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the New York University Department of Population Health’s Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center and in the NYU College of Nursing. His forthcoming collection, Hospice Care: Policy and Practice of Palliative Care, comes out soon on Oxford University Press.

Julia’s mom is a retired high school teacher and over-all rad lady who lives Ontario.

Nancy Gershman creates photo-realistic dreamscapes for people on their death beds and their loved ones. This piece was created for a woman and her daughter while the mother was at the end of her life. The daughter is featured on the left, the mother in the center. The daughter remembered her mother always wanted to be an airline stewardess. In the background, is a reef from the mother’s home country of Trinidad.

Where M. was growing up, she would ride a white horse to school every day. Here she’s pictured in her Sunday finest on a horse in Harlem.

Nancy met L. while she was dying of cancer. Though L. had lost her hair, she always proudly showed people this picture of herself when her was long. Here, Nancy depicted L. with her healthy hair surrounded by her children.

For this scene, Nancy created a fantasy wedding. The couple was never able to get married, as the bride died in hospice the day before they were set to die the knot.

Nancy says this is the most simple of requests, ‘a photo of mom and me’.