The Drama of Hospice and Plays about Death and Dying
Being given a hospice prognosis is dramatic. Period.
The word itself evokes both a hospital stay and the peace most hope will accompany death.
But don’t let the suffix–H-O-S-P– mislead you. Hospice patients are (almost always) beyond the repair of a hospital.
In my own experience, the suffix more accurately alludes to the hospitable treatment that the terminally ill and their families receive from the medical and support staff who care for patients in their own homes and at Hospice facilities.
In actuality, the word ‘hospice,’ which has its origin in the Latin word ‘hospitium,’ meaning guesthouse, refers to a concept of compassionate care for the dying (with particular attention to pain management) that was developed in the 1960’s by a British physician in London. The first hospice in the US was established in 1974. For more information click here.
Today I will be undergoing training to become a Hospice volunteer. Apparently, I am like many other people who have had a loved one use Hospice for end-of-life care in that I now want to help others who are going through what I have already endured with my sister in October 2008. (Here is “Death’s Dramatic Prelude,” a piece I wrote about Ginger’s last 24 hours.) I fully admit that the basis of this desire–need, even–is as self-motivated as it is genuinely altruistic, a way of helping others work through their grief as I continue, a year and a half later, to work through my own.
When I went for my interview a few weeks ago, the last form I had to complete asked me to choose the word(s) that best describe how I feel about death and dying: happy, peaceful, anxious, fearful, and a few others I can’t recall. The word I chose was ‘heavy.’ The woman conducting the interview told me she had never gotten that response before. To me, the word encompassed how dramatic death is and how complicated my feelings about it are.
Plays about Death and Dying
In my quick, preliminary search, I found this, which appears to be a collection of plays written for the purpose of art therapy–Time to Go: Three Plays on Death and Dying with Commentary on End-of-Life Issues (1995)—which contains the following plays: Journey into that Good Night by Berry L. Barta; Stars at the Break of Day by Marjorie Ellen Spence; and Time to Go by CE McClelland.
Trying to put together a list of plays about death and dying has gotten me thinking about ‘genre’ categories today, specifically the distinction between ‘dramas’ and ‘tragedies.’ Would you say that some plays (films also) are one or the other and that some are both? Margaret Edson’s Wit, for example, drama, tragedy, both?
For some reason right now, I can think of plenty of plays in which characters die, but beyond King Lear and the graveyard scene inHamlet, I can’t think of many offhand that take on death in a way that might bring some solace to a dying person and his or her family. I love W.B. Yeats’ play Purgatory, but it’s not uplifting at all.
Dear Reader, can you suggest other plays that take on issues of death and dying (and that perhaps end with a sense of lightness (or enlightenment), rather than bleakness)?