Some goals written on panels inside the Community Hospice building on Spyres Way are relatively modest: take a class at Modesto Junior College, attend a symphony concert.
Some are grand: end homelessness.
Some are in between: visit all 50 states, ski in Japan.
At least one is heartbreaking: have a friend.
All can be conversation starters. Which is why Community Hospice created a Before I Die wall, joining a public art project that spans 76 countries and 38 languages.
Before I Die was begun by artist Candy Chang on an abandoned house in New Orleans after she lost someone she loved. She painted the exterior walls with chalkboard paint and invited the public to fill in the statement, "Before I die, I want to ..."
In a June 2012 TED Talk in Edinburgh, Scotland, Chang said, "Death is something that we’re often discouraged to talk about, or even think about, but I’ve realized that preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do. Thinking about death clarifies your life."
Creating a Before I Die wall fits in perfectly with Community Hospice's work, said Kristin Mostowski, director of public relations for the nonprofit organization. "Working with patients and families, so many when we help them are in a crisis situation, where a lot have not made their decisions on what's important to them," she said. "Hospice is about enhancing the quality of life and focusing on what matters most. These boards … give people encouragement and opportunities to talk about what's important and plan."
Hospice's Before I Die wall — three tri-panel pieces — was put up for use March 15 outside the north Modesto office. The effort is timed to coincide with National Healthcare Decisions Day on April 16," in an effort to promote positive conversation about death and dying in our community," Mostowski said.
The wall will leave the Hospice site Monday for other Stanislaus and San Joaquin County locations:
University of Pacific's Derosa University Center in Stockton, Monday-April 9.
Modesto Junior College, April 9-16.
Community Hospice, April 16-29.
Love Modesto kickoff, Gallo Center for the Arts, and Earth Day in the Park, Graceada Park, both April 21.
California State University, Stanislaus, April 30-May 7.
The Hospice committee behind the wall's creation gave much thought to putting it before young people at the college campuses. "Hospice isn't just about serving people who are elderly," said Monica Ojcius, executive director of the Community Hospice Foundation. One aim is to get students thinking about what matters to them and how they want to live their lives.
Lupe Perez, director of volunteers and bereavement, said she was young when her own mother died. "As a young person, it's difficult to bring up death, whether it's a young person dying or losing a parent," she said. Hopefully, for students who pick up a piece of chalk and add their goal, it will open the door to talking with family at home. "It makes it so much easier to be able to say, 'There was this wall that made me think: What do I want to do before I die?'"
It's important to get people thinking about end of life, said Tami Bennett, Hospice's director of finance. "It's not something that's comfortable for people, and speaking as someone who's getting older, it's here before you know it," she said. "To be able to think about things that you'd like to do before you die, simple things ... like seeing your grandchildren get married, you may take for granted until you work at a place like Hospice and you see us admitting people in their 30s and 40s and you really think about how precious life is."
There are only so many spray-painted lines on the wall panels to accommodate people's goals, But Mostowski said writing outside the lines is absolutely OK, and expected. "It's not supposed to be neat and tidy," she said. "It's supposed to make a statement and be a piece of art as well."
As the wall moves around over the next several weeks, clearly some messages will be erased to make room for others. But before panels are wiped clean, they'll be photographed for a "digital storyboard" that participants can look back on in years ahead as reminders of what they wrote. A short video capturing the project also is being produced to share with the community.
Hospice plans to make the Before I Die wall an annual display, changing up the locations it visits.