Pastoral Psychology

, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 139–149 | Cite as

Four Butterflies: End of Life Stories of Transition and Transformation

  • Marcia Brennan


In this article, the author discusses her experiences as an Artist In Residence in the Department of Palliative Care and Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. Emphasis is placed on the ways in which end of life images and narratives often unfold in the fragile yet powerful space where conceptions of aesthetics and spirituality intersect with critical issues in the medical humanities. Drawing on four vivid case studies, the author examines the ways in which end of life narratives shed valuable light on conceptions of the subtlety of human embodiment; issues of violation, sorrow, and forgiveness; the mystical dimensions of traditional cultural beliefs; and the capacity for perceiving the natural world as a living symbol of grace. In so doing, she explores how the themes of transition and transformation become invested with meaningful existential and symbolic dimensions in artworks that give voice and presence to some of the most vulnerable, and often invisible, members of our society—people at the end of life.


Palliative medicine Medical humanities End of life Aesthetics Spirituality 



My heartfelt thanks go to Dr. Eduardo Bruera and Dr. Jennifer Wheler for their generosity and support; to Lynn Randolph for her work as an artistic collaborator; to Tom Cole for his insightful comments and incisive questions; and to Nate Carlin for his kindness and enthusiasm in inviting me to participate in the “Social Justice and the Health Professions” conference that he co-organized at the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, University of Texas Health Science Center (June 2, 2011).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Religious Studies, MS 15Rice UniversityHoustonUSA

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