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The Art of Palliative Medicine - 2017 Semester 1

The last light of a candle

To reflect on the experience interviewing my palliative care patient I created an artwork which captures the patient's feelings and thoughts about their end of life journey. The process of painting helped me to get into a mental space where I was able to reflect on the emotions and thoughts that she had shared. I think that artwork can be used as a powerful medium for conveying ideas about death and dying and I found it challenging to communicate this with symbols, colours and textures.

In the painting each layer of wax represents something significant that she felt that she had lost from her life. She repeatedly spoke about the physical and mental exhaustion that was completely limiting her day-to-day activity: "I only have a few hours each day to use and I need to prioritise how I spend them". In the painting the wax surrounding the candle is finite. Each layer of wax represents some of the abilities which has been lost.

Lying in bed you could make the outlines of her bones and the skin clung on tight like plastic wrap. It was almost as if all the muscle and blood had been drained from her body. This is represented in the artwork by shades of red and pink candle wax slopping off the candle leaving only a small wick behind to sustain the flame. When we are young we still have lots of candle wax to burn, the chances of the flame burning out are low. As we age and start to shed layers of wax the wick falls further towards the ground and the chances of the flame burning out increase. At the end stages of life when we are aware of our organs collapsing and our bodies caving in, death becomes a certainty.