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VEOLI held its second Open House on Wednesday, October 27, 2021. As we continue to define who we are and what our purpose is, it was heartening to be joined by folks who are interested both in visual graphics and end-of-life issues.

What happened at the Open House is what tends to happen at all VEOLI meetings: connections were made and expanded, as people understand and own the value of talking with others. Visuals are another layer of language, said one end-of-life doula. Many heads nodded vigorously.

What emerged was that each of us has a unique experience of death and dying and we can each bring those experiences to the group. Our ideas of what is possible around this work expands each time we connect with each other. It becomes a space for imagining: dreaming about how we might help each other move through the circle of life and death.

We will have another Open House sometime in the new year and more connections and inspiration will be generated and shared. As a relative newcomer, it is an enriching learning opportunity that I am grateful to have. Together we are a group looking forward.

On the VEOLI site there is a loosely curated list of resources — books, films, podcast, card decks, websites — that have been used by at least one member to help them in their work guiding others though end-of-life issues.

Of particular note is the book Awake at the Bedside, a collection of essays, poetry, and philosophy that has become the de-facto VEOLI book club choice for 2021. Most of us have read most of the book. We take it in turns to explore a chapter that spoke to us in a special way. There is a strong tie in this book to Buddhist practice and wisdom surrounding death.

A personal favorite vlog of mine is Caitlin Doughty’s Ask A Mortician. She also hosts a podcast called Death in the Afternoon. Caitlin is a smart and hilariously irreverent disruptor of standard funeral practices bur she holds a compassionate respect for the dead and their loved ones. It’s an informative and zanily entertaining rabbit hole.

Following member Susan MacLeod’s urging for us to explore the Graphic Medicine (Un)Convention in 2021, a number of us have become aware of the power of comics, zines, animation and other unusual treatments of serious topics relating to health. Jill has signed up to take a graphic memoir course at the Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW), inspired by Tom Hart’s Rosalie Lightning.

Whatever your motivation for exploring these resources, we encourage you to make sure a) your plans for your end of life (and afterwards!) are in place, b) that they are communicated to your loved ones and medical providers; c) that they are accessible in case of your no longer being able to access them when needed. Can we help? We’d love to visualize your Advance Care or Vigil plans with you, or memorialize a loved one. Check out the Gallery page on the VEOLI website to see what that might look like. We’re here, markers and styluses at the ready.

The Graphic Medicine UnConvention was, hands down, one of the best conferences I have ever attended!”

As I reflect on the three days of programming, I wonder about the alchemy that created the experience. Was it the

  • inclusivity of participation—105 one-minute videos

  • breadth of content—with topics ranging from Alzheimers, mental health, transgenerational trauma, sensitivity readers, vaccine hesitancy, chronic illness, COVID, and more. And our delight to contribute as VEOLI members about the topics of long term care (Susan Macleod), changing the narrative about death (Stephanie Steigerwaldt and Julie Swanson), and end of life iconography (my video)

  • well-planned design—10 -12 minutes of videos, followed by creators of the videos responding to a few prompts or questions from the session host and then questions from the attendees, until 45 minutes past the hour and time for a break before diving in again

  • being all together all the time (no simultaneous sessions) that enabled us to get to know each other a bit and have richer conversations through chat

  • learning about new resources—books, comics, conferences, videos, podcasts and more—and folks interested in collaboration

  • opportunity to meet people from around the world in fields so different than our own

  • thoughtfulness—awareness of the challenge of bearing witness to this work and providing resources for self-care?

We, VEOLI members who were able to attend the event, felt inspired and grateful to have stepped into the experience and the community!

What’s next? We are sharing our ideas, moving forward both individually and collectively as members of VEOLI. Here are impressions from a few of us that attended.

“I got the biggest CHARGE out of the UnConvention. I couldn’t believe I was seeing people with values and goals so closely aligned with VEOLI use visuals in such an accessible and fun, entertaining way to communicate. Even (or especially) when they are tackling very serious health issues. I have been moved to experiment with zines, comics, and even animation, and this was under two weeks ago!” Alison Kent

“The Graphic Medicine community is very welcoming. I’ve already connected with a few people I heard present and am looking forward to collaborations the future may bring. I encourage everyone to interested in end of life issues to connect with Graphic Medicine."Susan MacLeod

“What an amazing group of creative people...both with the projects they are bringing into the world and with the ways they gather with each other. I was both deeply moved and jazzed with inspiration!”Julie Swanson

“I (still) feel like a kid in a candy shop! I’m close to overwhelmed when I look at my list of resources to dive into—to read, view, listen to, and think about.. and then there’s connecting with folks from around the world, not to mention the incredible diversity of fields, approaches, styles, the ways in which we might collaborate—it’s super exciting!” Jill Greenbaum

The 2022 Graphic Medicine conference, is planned as a hybrid event for mid-late June in Chicago. I can’t wait!

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