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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On Mirrors: The Continuing Conversation on Hospice Cards

I want you to think of how many times a day you look within a mirror. 

Every time we enter the restroom we glance within the mirror to double check our appearance. We use it to take those lovely cell phone pictures that create avatars on countless social media sites.   We stride upon the streets of a city and reflected upon endless windowpanes; a dark copy of our face walks beside us marking time. 

A conference planner once asked me how could we make the assembly space of a symposium remind every attendee how it feels to be a bedridden patient.  I responded that is easy. 

“Cover every hall and bathroom mirror with black paper.”

The planer looked at me quizzically and waited for my explanation.  “The very compromised patient is stuck in his or her bed. Most hospital bedside tray tables do not have a mirror, or if they do it is often broken.  So you spend a lot of time alone without even the comforting gaze of your own eyes.”

I remembered this conversation in relation to a comment the Hallmark spokeswoman Linda Odell gave to Kansas City reporter Elana Gordon in her article "Addressing Death and Dying…Through a Greeting Card?”  This response was related to the petition Hallmark: Create Hospice Cards.

“Odell says she also recognizes that each person’s experience is different.  “Bless her [Holliday’s] heart for leading the way,” says Odell.  But she adds that Hallmark reflects what people are talking about, rather than “picking up the flag and leading the charge.”
“We’re always listening, but we’re listening to a lot of people. We’re talking to a lot of people…and we are always paying attention,” says Odell. “As people are more open about talking about things, yes we reflect what they’re talking about. But we’re a mirror of that…There are isolated data points and we certainly take that into consideration.”

So Hallmark is calling itself a mirror and does not see a reflected need for hospice cards.  I do not find it surprising that the viewpoint of the dying is not well reflected within our society. 

After all we do not give them mirrors.

We give them washed out cotton gowns, institutional surroundings, numbers instead of names, windows that do not open, diapers and silence. 

But we could change that.  We could change it by talking to the dying and sharing their worldview.  We could change it by taking small steps that turn the tide of culture.  If Hallmark created hospice cards and placed them in stores, that would be an amazing step on the journey to better care of everyone at end of life. 

Hallmark you can be a mirror, but I ask you to be a signal mirror.  You should send a message, a beam of light that can be seen miles away; a message that can be opened and read by someone who needs it.

Read by someone in a room without mirrors.

Please Sign the Petition Hallmark Create Hospice Cards


  1. What a haunting series of images, Regina. Black mirror coverings are also the void into which we fall and the blankness against which we cannot penetrate.

    Hallmark, be brave. *Everyone's* talking about dying, their just too scared to raise their voices and often don't have the language tools. The Boomers are 65-ing, the Silver Tsunami's waves are coming ashore. There's plenty of citizen water to float a few cards that *directly* address dying. We're all part of coming out of this stifling closet. Death may have come into life via extended life support technology but life has yet to come to dying.

    Let's really get this skeleton, so to speak, outa the closet.

    1. As you well know, the lessons we learn and the things we see in End of Life care never really leave us. I hope we can help Hallmark be brave to lift that "flag" and march toward a tomorrow with better communication and less loneliness.

  2. To Hallmark: I hope you are paying attention to Ms Holliday. She (and your customers) are telling you very specifically that there is a niche to be filled here. With over 1.5 million people entering hospices every year, hospice-specific cards are not only needed, but should have been available long ago.

    If your company does not feel compelled to cater to your customer's wishes, perhaps the increased sales would provide motivation. You are still a business with a bottom line, and you've just received free market research. I hope you'll run with it.

    David Ferrara

    1. Thank You so much David to stating such a clear call to action to Hallmark. This makes business sense and human sense. Thank you for joining the cause!

  3. I am sure that the Hallmark representative means well "bless her heart" but we consumers have choice and we can walk. Regina, I would buy your creations!

    1. I found that very humorous as we had just had a HIT conversation in patient safety that week in which a gentleman lampooned the phrase, saying it was a nice way to say you intended to do nothing to help solve the problem.

  4. I've always loved writing letters. I love sending cards - usually from Hallmark - for St. Patrick's Day to Christmas to random unknown holidays or just because. I love receiving cards. I love the messages sent and the meaning that someone is thinking of you, loving you, taking time for you.

    I've written letters and sent cards since I was a child. And then the meaning of letters and correspondence in a society of internet communications took on an even greater meaning for me in July 2006. That summer I was in Amsterdam studying international human rights law. I visited Anne Frank's house. But there was another special exhibit in another museum featuring many of Anne's letters - both from and to her. Letters that expressed parts of Anne that I couldn't have imagined but related to in many ways. And I thought, had we never found her diary - these little pieces of herself would still exist, spread around the world, still making an impact and carrying the memory of her. And thus letters took on a new significance.

    Cards are letters. They are pieces of our hearts shared with the world. They are messages given not only to share love, concern, laughs, celebrations but to document a life. As I receive a card, I get to hold someone. I can keep their thoughts and carry them with me even in rooms that are black and dark.

    My grandmother died in hospice last November. There were no hospice cards for her when I wanted so badly to write her in her last days because I couldn't be with her in person. See my grandmother, like me, loved sending cards. She too sent cards for every occasion and every once in a while, a "good kid" card with $5. And as her family cleaned her house, they found that she kept every one of my cards and letters. Every last one. She would have kept close to her a hospice card. But my stationary wasn't right and I hadn't the right wording and in the end I only had an email for someone to read to her - an intangible message.

    Why can't there be hospice cards? Cards that allow us to share parts of ourselves with those we love. Cards that they can hold close. Cards that will last beyond a life lost. Cards that will bring light to a dark room. Cards that honour those suffering. Cards that give respect and dignity to the dying? Do they not deserve to have their journey recognized, their life documented? Through letters and cards, we live on forever. Without hospice cards, our story is incomplete.

    1. Thank you Erin for sharing such a deep and personal reason for why we should have hospice cards. It is stories such as yours that empower this request.

  5. Regina - thank you for your work in this world. I worked as a hospice nurse before returning to my art practice in the past few years, and have been processing ways in which these two paths of mine can bridge to help others... I am deeply inspired by your call to activism for advocacy and deeper understanding of the patient experience. Many blessings to you...