Discussion Post for THE LOST ART OF DYING, Chapter 5 Art, Pages 228-229

Dr. Dugdale’s comments on this image are interesting. She calls it disturbing and indicates that previous drafts were even more disturbing. She compares the depiction of the hospital bed to a coffin. Finally, she suggest that the hiding of this woman’s arms “prompts the viewer to ask whether she has the ability to escape from the encroaching darkness” (page 228).

To me, the most striking part of this image are the woman’s eyes. Dr. Dugdale says that her eyes are “wide open with terror” (page 228). I think her wide open eyes and raised eyebrows suggest panic. Hers seems to be a kind of fear that is inconsistent with rest or peace or vision. Her eyes are wide open in an unfocused way. She is consumed by fear and unable to see anything real. We sometimes use the expression “eyes wide open” to refer to someone who keenly observes a situation and understands what’s going on. By contrast, the wide open eyes of this woman do not suggest perception or understanding but a mind overwhelmed by fear.

I did not initially see a coffin in this image. After reading Dr. Dugdale’s comments, I do see it and find it fascinating. When I lead prayer services at funeral homes, I usually conclude with a blessing of the body of the deceased while saying the words, “eternal rest grant unto her O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon her; may she rest in peace, amen; may her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace, amen.” This image is the opposite of rest and peace. The comparison with a coffin also suggests the gruesome idea of being buried alive and the terror that would elicit. Is the fear of death that this woman is experiencing a kind of living death? Is she already experiencing the horrifying reality that she imagines death to be? Does she imagine death to the “encroaching darkness” that Dr. Dugdale sees in this image?

That’s all I have for this week. I look forward to reading your comments about this “disturbing piece of art.”

8 thoughts on “Discussion Post for THE LOST ART OF DYING, Chapter 5 Art, Pages 228-229”

  1. I agree, this art work screams terror. It may be the terror of being buried alive, but on a more metaphoric note, perhaps it is the terror that comes at the end of life when one has not made peace with many aspects of one’s life.

    I see the art as the personification of fear–an existential fear that the end of life may bring to people. To me, it is a message about needing to be in communion with God on a daily basis–not just at the end of one’s life. A relationship with the Divine may help us in our human frailty and hopefully, diminish our existential fear of looking into an abyss. Day by day….

  2. This woman didn’t expect this. Someone called an ambulance and now she in in the emergency room – A million terrifying thoughts are racing through her mind -she can barely breathe
    Darkness surrounds her. She is overcome with fear- and anxiously trembles as she waits for something to happen-
    This is a pathetic, desperate image- a woman is fearful because she has lost control of her life and is unable to deal with it. (especially not calmly) Death is coming for her- and she is alone. If only a loving or caring person (with a prayer and spiritual insight) appeared with her in the photo, perhaps her eyes would tell us something different.

  3. Most people in the hospital are worried that being dead is the next step. They are worried that they will not make it home. The woman in the picture looks frightened and trapped. I think that not showing her arms illustrates a feeling of being trapped. She is unable to push back the covers and leave. I think Dugdale and other doctors see so many patients over the years that they must feel that they know the likelihood of everyone to survive the hospital stay. Perhaps that is while Dugdale likens the hospital bed to a coffin. She may see futility in further treatments. That is a hard position for both doctor and patient. Both need to have hope and faith. The Lord asks us to do the best we can for as long as we can. This is also the point where hospice care may be a good option.

  4. “A deer in the headlights”, this woman’s eyes shout fear, terror, panic. Like the man in the picture in the previous chapter, however, she does not seem to be terminally or chronically ill or actively dying. She looks and is expressly stated to be a “young woman”. The intensity of the terror in her eyes seems to be an encounter with a fear that is new to her.

    My attention was drawn to the object to the left of the woman’s head, which looks like a gym bag or some sort of bag with something hanging off it, like a small stuffed animal or bottle of hand sanitizer people hang from their bags.

    Was this woman on her way to work or the gym when something happened to her? I don’t see a hospital room. The picture is a tight, small square of space – could she be in an ambulance on her way to the hospital? Is the panic in her eyes the terror of realizing her weakness, her mortality, her lack of self-sufficiency, her lack of control – perhaps for the first time? Is this woman an example of someone who never thought about death before, now looking death in the face? Fear is a powerful emotion and she seems paralyzed by it.

    This picture brought to mind the story of Lot and Lot’s wife. When Lot was facing the destruction of Sodom, God directed him to flee the plain and go up to the hill country. Lot was afraid; he was a tiller of the soil and the hill country probably filled hm with fear and dread – it was an unknown place and a different lifestyle. He tried to bargain with God and asked God to let him go somewhere else. God agreed and an angel “seized him by the hand” and brought Lot to that other place. His fear may have been great and his faith weak, but he was able to trust God to take his hand and lead him to safety.

    Lot’s wife was also afraid to leave Sodom for the unknown, but she didn’t have faith to trust that God was taking her to a better place. She looked back to where she lived and was turned into a pillar of salt. She feared to stay in Sodom and she feared to move to an unknown place. She was paralyzed by fear and didn’t trust God to give him an entry way to take her by the hand to a better place,

    Although this is not a book about faith, discussing death outside a faith perspective seems a dead end. Both the chapter and the picture are disturbing.

  5. When looking at this picture I see this women’s anxiety maybe more than fear. The oxygen mask indicates to me that the women is having difficulty breathing, as does her raised eyebrows. Felling as if you’re suffocating is a terrible thing. Struggling for you’re next breath is all consuming. I at first also didn’t view the encroaching darkness around this women to represent her lying in a coffin. I felt we were standing outside perhaps viewing the scene through a window. Looking again, however, I can see we’re looking down at her and not in at her. I can see that one viewing this picture could be reminded of a person lying in a coffin. This image, I think, causes the viewer to feel a fear that perhaps the women herself was unaware of. I also thought of the fear of being buried alive. This was a real and terrifying fear for those during the 1400s and it was during this time in response to the plague and other “unimaginable horrors that the ars moriendi was born.”

  6. Maybe the terror is in “passing” until getting to other side “peace”….Her covered hands in hospital under the covers …later iin coffin will be above like bed covers…similarly ….never thought about the soft pretty linens in a coffin…with pillow..analogy .sleeping peacefully imagery…hard to grasp especially…. when younger..life/ bad.. death/ good ??….ie eternal life etc…..but taken in the abstrace, not sure if she is scared or frozen (eyes)….stuck in open position til later on. ..very disconcerting photo. (I didn’t care for it)
    Vera O

  7. The first thing my eyes are drawn to is the overall darkness of the picture – there is a large, black, perfect rectangle that seems to be rising up from the bottom of the image. It does not fall gently like a sheet, which convinces me this represents either a coffin or nothingness. (both of which are likely objects of fear in this case.)

    I am also drawn to her eyes. I think the oxygen mask is rather poignant this particular year, but it also serves to obscure the rest of her face and forces us to look only into her eyes. It is amazing how much fear can be expressed in her eyes alone. I also find that the pillow adds to this – the shape of the patient blends into the blackness behind her head, it is almost as if she is beginning to fall into nothingness.

    One final point is that this image gives her the feeling of being alone, at least isolated by the high walls of the bed, though we cannot see what goes on around her. We’re left to imagine if she’s truly alone, but I think it fair to think that maybe her fear is reflected from those around her. In these situations, fear permeates the room, the family, and the community.

  8. I’ve seen this look, and I think I have exhibited this look, too. It’s the look you make when your mind knows something is not right but your body doesn’t allow you to do anything about it. When you can’t move and you can’t speak, only your eyes can scream out for help.

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