In her fine essay, In the Far Canada of a Hospital Room: The Loneliness of Dying, Tomasic describes her personal experience as a conservator with end of life clients, and she refers to a variety of literature addressing the anguish and its relief from the point of view of patients themselves, clinicians, and caregivers.
In the Danish film, “At Night,” three young women on an oncology service provide each other the support and comfort ignored by the clinicians. In “Wit,” the inpatient nurse supports the protagonist through her aggressive chemotherapy. And at the end, a visiting literature professor comforts her by reading The Runaway Bunny.
Tomasic’s discussion of Tolstoy’s masterpiece The Death of Ivan Ilyich emphasizes the saintly caring of the protagonist by his loyal servant, comparing it to the psychoanalytic concept of the holding environment. And she reminds us of Holden Caulfield’s continuing ruminations on the death of his younger brother Allie, contributing to his isolation and aimlessness in the Catcher in the Rye.
We believe that folk tales – the focus of our paper – can address the loneliness of dying for some patients, clinicians, and caregivers. With child-like grace, they can evoke concepts of personal accounting of successes as well as failures, enchantment and transformation, hope and wisdom, and feelings of self-compassion and acceptance in our own life-stories.
While our patients exit on their own, we can keep them company in the waiting room.
Henry Sussman received his PhD in Comparative Literature from Johns Hopkins University in 1975 and taught Comparative and German Literatures at universities including Johns Hopkins, SUNY Buffalo, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rutgers, and Yale. At Yale, he evolved a course in German fairy tales out of his interests in critical theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis and cybernetics. “Wisdom in the End: Folktales and Narrative Technique in End-of-Life Palliation” by Sussman and co-author Jeffrey Newman appears in the Spring 2019 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine.
Jeff Newman is a Professor in the Institute for Health & Aging at UCSF. Trained in Preventive and Internal Medicine, his previous positions were in the US Public Health Service, the California Medicare Quality Improvement Organization, and Sutter Health. “Wisdom in the End: Folktales and Narrative Technique in End-of-Life Palliation” by Newman and co-author Henry Sussman appears in the Spring 2019 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine..
©2019 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine