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Thoughts in Passing

What the dying can teach us: an audio-visual portrait project of nine Bay Area hospice patients.

Photo of Claudia Biçen
13 22

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Since I was a young child, I have been transfixed by the question of how we should live. Convinced that the dying would have the answer, I contacted hospices across the Bay Area in California and asked to be put in touch with their patients. I spent the next two years going to meet these people and interview them about their reflections on life and confrontations with mortality.  

The culmination of my meetings is a series of nine life-size graphite pencil portraits. Using the text from more than fifty hours of interviews, I transcribed my subjects' words onto their clothing in the drawings and created a three-minute audio edit of each person’s interview to accompany their portrait.

Full project:  

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

There is no way around it - death is a sad and existentially painful topic. Our aim with this challenge is not to make it something it is not. Rather, our mission is to create a safe and accepting cultural space to allow it to be more deeply what it is.


Claudia Biçen


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ken Rosenfeld

Hi Claudia,  your work is breathtaking (literally, it actually happened).  I'll bet you're already plugged into the Bay Area end of life innovation community, but I'd hope we could connect around some upcoming plans (IDEO- and non-IDEO-related) that might feature your ideas.  If you're interested,  free to email me at

Photo of Marine Dalais

This is amazing and so beautiful !! It would be interesting to have some pictures of their past life: moments, "clichés". It might help the viewer to feel even more connected to the story. 
I loved the fact that they are telling the stories themselves. Real pieces of art. 

Photo of Claudia Biçen

Hi Marine - thank you for your comments! I actually collected many pictures of my subjects' lives from when they were born up until the day I met them. I am hoping to be able to publish a book of the project and would plan to use them for this. Wishing you all the best, Claudia

Photo of Marine Dalais

Hi Claudia, 
This is amazing! I would be very interested in reading your book. Good luck on this magical and mysterious path. Marine 

Photo of Nikhil Gangaraju

Claudia Biçen This was a really inspiring post. Thank you for sharing this. It gives us readers a unique perspective on how to approach our own lives. The artistic component adds a nice touch to it as well :)

Photo of Aaron Wong

Beautiful work and what a wonderful idea, Claudia! 
I'm glad you are capturing the hidden beauty behind what death can be. I think it's hard to describe, but maybe because it's so many different emotions and thoughts.  You might also find The Memento Mori Society  by Meve Savard  interesting.

Photo of Claudia Biçen

Thank you Aaron - I will certainly check out these suggestions!

Photo of Chiara Pineschi

Thanks Claudia. This piece was touching. I also reached and saw, and listened to your other potraits. Excruciatingly beautiful, they made me emotional. I greatly appreciated the idea and the realisation. Keep it up with the great work!

Photo of Claudia Biçen

Thank you Chiara. For me, the most important element of art is to be emotionally moved. That my work has done that for you is of great importance to me. Wishing you all the best, Claudia

Photo of Bettina Fliegel

Thank you!  This piece is beautiful.  I was struck by the clarity with which each person spoke particularly about time, as they gave details about their lives.  I found myself slowing down just listening to the stories and wondering….. well about many things.  

Were you able to share any of the portraits with the people that you interviewed, or their families?  Were you able to share them with the hospice staff?   

Photo of Claudia Biçen

Hi Bettina,

Thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to listen to their stories.

I was able to share the portraits with hospice staff, patient families and a couple of my subjects. My subjects and I were able to co-create something during a time in their life that was all about loss. To be able to share these creations with my subjects and their families and friends was a very important part of the process. 

Best wishes


Photo of Shane Zhao

Absolutely beautiful Claudia! I love how each portrait is brought to life with personal recordings of the patient's stories told through their voices. We've been working on a collaborative art project in conjunction with this end-of-life challenge and your work is an amazing source of inspiration for us:)

Also, here's a helpful Tip: to activate links in your post, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to your Full Description field. Select the text you'd like to link, hit the link icon in the Rich Text Editor at the top of this field and enter your link. That way everyone will be able to check it out easily, straight from your post.

Photo of Claudia Biçen

Thank you Shane - I really appreciate you taking the time to look at the work and it brings me joy that the work is inspiring IDEO's new art projects. Thank you also for the tip for the link - all updated ;)