Some people fear the end of their life. Others see it as one last opportunity for self expression.
Sheilah Britton, a director in the Office of the Vice President for Research & Economic Affairs at Arizona State University, offers that opportunity to palliative care patients at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz., as a member of the Poesia del Sol program.
Poesia del Sol is the result of a partnership between the Creative Writing department at ASU and the Mayo Clinic. The program allows creative writing students to practice a technique called “lyric medicine,” a term developed by ASU faculty.
Britton said she travels to the clinic upon request of a doctor or nurse to meet with patients who have less than one year to live. She said she gets to know these patients over the course of an hour or two and then creates a poem, on site, based on their conversation.
“They are just friends with you right away,” Britton said, “It’s lovely.”
Britton said she became a member of Poesia del Sol as a graduate student at ASU in 2004. Although she received her undergraduate degree in film and television in 1984, Britton took literature and creative writing classes and said professors encouraged her to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree in literature.
“That’s always been my real love,” Britton said.
Britton said she worked at a television station for 14 years before a former professor and friend, Alberto Rios, asked her what she wanted to do next.
“I told him I’d really like to do something socially responsible,” Britton said.
Rios, a Regents Professor of English at ASU, invited Britton to participate in the Poesia del Sol program. Rios said Britton was a good match for the program because of her maturity and poetic talent.
“We knew we were getting someone who was innately interested in this,” Rios said.
Britton said Poesia del Sol is the only program to her knowledge that pairs terminally ill patients one-on-one with creative writing students, although it is part of an emerging medical discipline called narrative medicine.