Sanford School of Medicine LifeCircle South Dakota

Traveling Art Exhibit

Living Until We Die/Dying Until We Live
Passages: a photographic exploration of the end-of-life experience is a collaborative effort sponsored by LifeCircle South Dakota, Sanford School of Medicine of The University of South Dakota, and Augustana College. 

College senior students captured stories and photographs of people and their families at end-of-life as part of their capstone course, "Living Until We Die/Dying Until We Live." Those works have been presented to the public as a traveling art exhibition, appearing at Augustana College, Rapid City, Pierre, Madison, and the 2004 South Dakota Legislative Session. The exhibit continues to be available. For more information, contact Becky Hinton. 


More About Passages

Our vision is to "assure that the people of South Dakota will receive the care needed to complete their life and die peacefully; their loved ones will receive support; and health care providers will improve their skills in palliative care." 

In order to nurture these values at the undergraduate level, Dr. Ann Pederson (Religion/Philosophy) and Dr. LuAnn Eidsness (Sanford School of Medicine, Internal Medicine) developed an Augustana Capstone course for seniors entitled, "Living Until We Die, Dying Until We Live."

"Living Until We Die, Dying Until We Live" raised questions about fears of death, what comes after death, what it is like to die, when to stop medical treatment, controlling death, and how life and death are intertwined. Senior students moved beyond the classroom to local hospice cottages, in-patient hospice units, nursing homes, and private residences. They spent time with the elderly, with hospice patients, with caregivers and staff. The students kept a journal of reflection during the experience and supplemented their journal work with photographs. 

By incorporating these narratives and photographs into an art exhibit, participants view the end-of-life experience through the student artist's eyes. The aim is to expand the community's understanding of the importance of easing the passage out of life and to enhance the awareness of the power and value of end-of-life care. All exhibit pieces were used with permission of both the student and the subject, and edited to their current form by a panel.  Dates, ages and location are referenced at the time of the interviews.

While the narratives and photographs celebrate the individual, viewers will begin to discern common themes echoing from the panels as they move through the exhibit.  speak of supportive family and friends, and reflect on fear and loneliness.  Some fight to live, while others hope to live on in the memories of others. There are stories of struggles to adapt to the changes age or illness has wrought, and reflections on lives well-lived. Courage, frustration, reconciliation, completion… all play a part in the recounting.

About the Augustana College Capstone Course 

The purpose of a Capstone course is to involve senior students and faculty in conversations regarding moral and aesthetic issues, and to reflect on how one can live as a responsible member of church and society (e.g., "How then shall we live?"). 

In this particular capstone course ("Living Until We Die, Dying Until We Live"), students were encouraged to address the following questions:

  1. What does Richard John Neuhaus mean by "the work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well?"  What does living say about dying?  What does dying say about living?  How do you think those with whom you visited would answer these questions?
  2. How did your visits influence your understanding of caring for a dying patient and their family?
  3. Reflect on your prior experiences with death and dying, however remote or close-at-hand.  How did these experiences shape your expectations and outcomes of the visits in this class?
  4. How did you feel when you were with a person who is at the end of life?  What was the most important thing you learned from the visits?
  5. What did you learn from taking the photographs?  About yourself? About the subjects? The family? The staff?
  6. What is the most important learning that happened to you in this project?
  7. After this project, how would you interpret the title of the course?

This course was led by Ann Pederson, Ph.D., Augustana College, Department of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, and LuAnn Eidsness, M.D., Sanford School of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine.  Augustana College senior students in Living Until We Die, Dying Until We Live represented a wide range of disciplines.