Our idea is a suite of comics that will address the barriers that prevent people from discussing end-of-life care wishes with loved ones. Our idea addresses the problem by using the inviting and approachable medium of comics to demonstrate these barriers in action and model concrete methods for overcoming them.
The purpose of this project is to develop, create, and test a pilot group of four comic narratives that will get people talking about their values and wishes at the end of life. This pilot is designed to generate participation in conversations about what matters to people in life, how they want to live, under what circumstances, and how they might want to die.
Our comics will create a non-threatening invitation to end-of-life reflections and conversations by leveraging the strengths of of the comics medium, which include modeling empathy, nuanced narratives, light-hearted visuals, and cross-generational, cross-cultural appeal. Our comic materials will work flexibly across print and electronic platforms for use in home, community, and medical settings.
Graphic Medicine (a term coined in the last ten years to refer to the intersection of comics and health) utilizes a potent blend of compelling personal narrative and visual humor. The comic/graphic format has a proven ability to convey complex information in simple, straightforward ways. Comics can also explore topics that are otherwise extraordinarily difficult, often even stigmatized, like death itself. We are convinced that graphic narratives can change the tenor of the end-of-life conversation, bringing an accessible, non-threatening approach to a weighty subject, empowering thousands of patients, families, and health-care professionals to feel comfortable initiating and conducting advanced-care planning conversations. Our work is underpinned and heavily informed by the work of Narrative Medicine, that is, health care practiced with recognition of the value of the participants' life stories in clinical practice, research, and education.
The project will produce an initial set of four completed short graphic narratives that represent the perspectives and insights of patients, families and health-care professionals. Twelve to twenty additional text narratives are ultimately planned, to allow for a variety of barriers to be addressed and stakeholder populations to be represented. We will work with a variety of comic artists, some widely recognized and some less known, to create this body of work. We believe that a variety of approaches will make for a vibrant collection that allows for a range of visual sensibilities and points of access. Patient, family, and clinician stories will be drawn from interviews with, or done by, project collaborators. These graphic narratives, and the ones that follow after this pilot phase, will become a resource for families, health care providers, community organizations, and facilities who are looking for ways to begin talking about end-of-life values and wishes.
One of the inspirations for this project is a graphic memoir by Roz Chast, published in 2014 by Bloomsbury, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant. In this full-length, highly acclaimed comic memoir, Chast deftly uses the comic medium to show the difficulty, complexity, emotional contradictions, and potential consequences inherent in attempting to discus end-of-life care with aging parents. In addition to the image we've posted above, you can read a longer excerpt from her book here.