Guest post from Zach Moss Digital Manager for Compassion in Dying
A global art project that invites people to contemplate mortality and share their personal aspirations in public.
A ‘Before I Die’ wall in New Orleans, Louisiana (Credit: ritualfields.com)
‘Before I Die…’ is a global art project that invites people to contemplate mortality and share their personal aspirations in public.
After the death of someone she loved, Candy Chang went through a long period of grief and depression when she realised how much we avoid discussion of death.
She wanted to start a conversation, so she covered a crumbling house in her New Orleans neighbourhood with chalkboard paint and stencilled it with the prompt:
Before I die I want to ____________________
…so anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on death and life, and share their personal aspirations in public.
By the next day, the wall was entirely filled out. Since then, over 1,000 Before I Die walls have been created in over 35 languages and over 70 countries.
Before I Die…in Lambeth
The card pictured below is one of more than 400 ‘dreams’ that were pinned to ‘Before I Die’ Wall at this year’s Lambeth Country Show. The show is one of the biggest free family festivals in the UK and offered a unique opportunity to have public conversations about living, dying and planning for the end of life.
Someone’s ‘dream’ from this year’s Lambeth Country Show
The Lambeth Before I Die tent was hosted by the Lambeth Advance Care Planning Consortium. We are an open network of organisations working to create opportunities for Lambeth’s diverse communities to feel more comfortable talking about their future care wishes, end-of-life care, and experiences of dying and death.
Active members include:
Children colouring in ’Day of the Dead’ masks at the Lambeth ‘Before I Die’ tent
The consortium is about enabling Lambeth residents to be aware of opportunities to plan for their treatment and care and talk about these issues, so they feel confident to ask and feel in control when they speak to people involved in their health and care. We are all passionate about facilitating this change.
Having the opportunity to host a tent at the Lambeth Country Show provided us all with a fantastic opportunity to reach out to communities who may not traditionally access our services.
By offering a creative, informal way to start conversations about their values and ambitions for life and death, the tent sparked public conversations that were meaningful, sometimes surprising and often funny.
The reception of the tent was overwhelmingly warm and positive:
“Thanks for offering this — it’s something I didn’t expect but I recall how difficult it was around those issues when I lost my mum — we weren’t prepared and it was emotionally distressing. Hope it will be widely advertised and the issue taken out into the wider community.”
“I stopped when I saw the tent and immediately felt moved. You’re talking about death and suffering completely out of context. You’re very brave to bring this out. We need to talk about this. My sister lives in Italy. She has MS and is isolated because others don’t want to hear her talk about her situation. People get bored with her — they don’t have patience with her. Death is scary and talking about it will make it less frightening.”
We often hear in our community outreach work that people gain huge peace of mind through talking, planning and recording their wishes for the end of life.
When the people close to them know what they want at the end of their life, it creates the best possible chance of them getting the care that’s right for them.
If you would like to find out more about ways that you can plan ahead for your future, have a look at Compassion in Dying’s website or talk to them on 0800 999 2434.
A full list of the Lambeth Advance Care Planning Consortium members and local advice can be found here.