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Two hundred years ago, people facing death were not given a whole lot of options about how their last few days would go. Maybe a little laudanum (or brandy) for pain, but mostly, you faced death as it came to you.

These days many, if not most, people in the developed world are given a lot of medication as they approach death. This is primarily to control pain, particularly in cancer patients, but there's another part of the story: to control terminal agitation (terminal restlessness, terminal delirium) which can occur often as a result of end-stage organ failure and other irreversible factors.

Terminal agitation isn't just a physical condition, or mostly not: it's often primarily emotional or spiritual, i.e. existential. It can manifest as extreme restlessness, sweating, night terrors, and extreme anguish even in people who have strong religious convictions about the afterlife. Not everyone who is about to die gets it, but it's estimated to affect over 80% of dying patients, at least in the developed world. Needless to say, it's very distressing for the person dying, their caregivers, and especially for their loved ones. Hence the heavy reliance on narcotic medications: avoid the anguish of it all. However, at the same time this removes a person's ability to face death consciously, even if this is something they might want to do, even through the existential dread.

Research has been done on a different approach, though -- using (currently illegal or highly controlled) hallucinogenic substances like LSD, ketamine, psilocybin (mushrooms) or MDMA (ecstasy). Someone who has tried ketamine told me the experience was like floating above their body, able to see it but not concerned. Since this approximates how most people want to experience death, it seems promising. The medical literature seems to point to the need for much more research on this topic. It’s difficult, of course, to measure the experience of someone else who is experiencing a condition induced by hallucinogens.

What does seem to be true, though, is that preparing for death -- how you want your last days and hours to go -- is really helpful. Knowing that terminal agitation might be part of the picture might be helpful for all concerned to help in this preparation. Let us know how we here at VEOLI can assist with visualizing your, or a loved one’s, final goodbye.

The 2023 Graphic Medicine Conference in Toronto, was close to overwhelming—in a good way! This hybrid event brought together professionals from various disciplines and offered glimpses of the myriad ways graphics become medicine.

As an in-person attendee, I could choose from three keynote presentations, thirty paper presentations, forty-three lightning talks, and six workshops. There were too many times I wanted to be in two places simultaneously!

The keynote presentations in the giant lecture hall (at the University of Toronto’s Myhal’s Center) were visually stunning, informative, and provocative. Look here (and on the following pages of the Graphic Medicine blog),, to read abstracts of some of the presentations and see several of the visuals.

The few paper presentations I attended offered in-depth sharing of research or programs. While they were fascinating, I chose to experience as much of the conference as possible in the Lightning Talks. Those sessions provided an amazing array of personal stories, community projects, research, and more. It was truly an avalanche of information in five-minute bursts, providing just a tasting.

Happily, I had an opportunity to meet up with colleagues from the Sequential Artists Workshop. And to my surprise and delight, many of them attended my session, Plan for Your Death and See Your Life with New Eyes. It was a delight to share my passion for end-of-life planning through a workshop that enabled others to begin to conceive and draw their plans. Preparation for the session enabled me to ground myself in my past few years' experiences and share the learning with others.

All of this work began for me in September of 2020, when about half a dozen visual practitioners came together to form VEOLI—Visualizing End of Life Issues. We continue to come together for personal and professional development and to share our knowledge and talents with the world. Postscript: Speaking of sharing—my workshop was only available to in-person conference attendees. Some folks who attended online asked if I would be willing to present the session in the Graphic Medicine monthly Drawing Together session this fall. While I can't replicate a 90-minute session in 60 minutes, I will create an abridged version in alignment with the Drawing Together format. I am scheduled for October 29th. All are welcome! Learn more here,, and you can sign up too! I'd love to see you!

VEOLI has participated in several Graphic Medicine Conferences since its inception, and will also be doing so in Toronto July 13-16. The conference program is here. Jill Greenbaum will be hosting a workshop on Friday, July 14: Plan for Your Death and See Your Life with New Eyes. Unfortunately workshops are not available on Zoom, but much of the conference will be. Please stop by and say hello to Jill at the VEOLI table.

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