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Reclaiming the ART of Dying - touching the creative in living.

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

Death is an innate possession from birth and we spend much of our life denying this ultimate fact. Through their own work and life experiences Ellen Michel and Rosemary Mangiemele pinpointed alienation and disconnection from death and dying as a source of dis-ease and soul loss. As a result Art and Soul Coffins and Ceremonies came into being. As artists and art therapists Ellen’s and Rosemary’s hope is to re-connect that which is disconnected through Art, as ceremony and coffin painting. Since then the picture has grown.

There is a world wide trend to embraced this same ideal and lay people and professionals working in health care industry are looking forward developing creative ways to reclaim this part of all of us. Ellen offers the idea that life and death are an art form art is opens up for discussion ways to create more intention and meaning in the process of dying and subsequently experience the rich profundity which live and death offer.

In an attempt to This is a passionate story which is universal. It is about a creative dance between lovers. A dance between life and death which invites a poetic phase . . As Art inspires the soul

So Life and Death become passionate lovers.

I would like to share with you a story which transformed my life and its meaning.. I give thanks for my father’s life whose dying moments gave rise to my experience as witness and the story I am about to tell you.

10 years ago my father was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and 6 years ago his struggle ended after a 8 week hospitalization and the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. During this period I witnessed several stages of the process of my father’s dying part of this was a painful and tumultuous experience for him and his family as we looked on helplessly.

My father was in hospital for the last 8 weeks of his life hooked up to intravenous apparatus after undergoing an operation. He could not eat proper meals which for him was a travesty. The doctor told my two brothers’ and myself that there was no hope of my father’s recovery and that it was only a matter of time.

Chaos set in. I was numbed by the news. And settled into passive aggressive behavior agreeing to keeping the news from my mother. My brothers and I did not know whether my father knew he was dying but we suspected he did. In which case we all colluded to keep it from our mother.

At the beginning of these 8 weeks I could see my father’s determination to fight to his eminent death. As the weeks went by my father continued to struggle against dissolution. I could see my father suffering in denial and I was unable to speak my feelings and thoughts for fear of disrupting the status quo.

Pn reflection, the chaos and anxiety of denial gave my father less time to receive the grace in dying through acceptance.

Four days before my father died he told my mother that this was the end. And I have to say it opened up the channels for healing and compassion I had never experienced before. My father surrendered his denial, anger and pain for a state of grace. And my mother, brothers and I felt a loving peace.

Moved to a quiet room in the hospital my father invited us and his friends in one by one to say good-bye. These were precious moments. The family were all there when his last breath left his body and then we sat talking and had a beer with him.

This precious time, all too brief, left me still aching for something more.

Adding to the brevity of the moment and my sense of lacking, was the speed at which the funeral arrangements were taken care of, removing me, as a participant in the occasion of my father s funeral.

I had declined partaking in funeral arrangements, because I had a feeling about the way it would go but changed my mind half an hour before the funeral director was to arrive at my brother house. I rang my brother and said I would be there. I arrived at the appointed time only to be greeted by the funeral director shaking hands and thanking my brother and mother for their business. $9.000 later the funeral was signed and sealed. My father’s body was whisked to the funeral parlour. The next time I saw him he was painted with make-up and somehow did not look like him. I felt empty with no chance to claim what I felt in that hospital room.

However, I did find a way. Instead of a hospital room I found inspiration in a cave, the caves of Lascaux. Throughout my life I have used art as a healing tool. Painting and teaching for 30 years I have experienced and seen the benefits of the process of doing art.

Always fascinated with the exquisite drawings in the caves of Lascaux in the south of France. And the possibility that Neolithic man descending into the womb of the earth to perform initiation rites of passage honouring of the cycle of life and death.

And I have come to realization that until we can honour life to the fullest we are unable to fully experience the transformative grace in dying.

to Art therapy has transformed my experience of emptiness and I have been able to honor the death of my father by working in the field of death and dying by trying to make a difference by helping people transform their experience into one of grace and healing

I have never felt so close to him in my whole 50 years of living.

My vision for the future .


I speak for the majority - for those who cannot speak and cannot assert their rights and needs - the dead. After all this group have no power to control what happens to them.

I would like to see the funeral industry change radically.

An accredited course for funeral professionals in the funerary rites which including care of the spiritual and the physical. Before and after death..

De-mistifying death and thus create a pro-life society. Change the industry giving the power and knowledge to the community at large, removing the fear surrounding death and dying by embracing . the life affirming experience of active participation. Encouraging people to take an active part in ALL PHASES of the death and dying will provide our society with enriched values about their own and others lives.

MAKE DYING AN ART FORM . Promoting open discussion about what are the creative possibilities and other ways of celebrating death.


Time is the healing part of dying. Speed and a lack of time in our lives is also apparent in the funeral industry and denies us healing. Something I would like to see for example would be a 3 day Vidal for cleansing with prayers and chanting.

I would l like to see a NATIONAL DAY FOR ANCESTORS to pay homage to the past and to ask for guidance for the future. By honouring the past we are able to move into the future with love, confidence and awareness being connected to those who have gone before and learning the lessons they have to give.

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