NEWS | April 5, 2019

'Before I die' art project gives ED staff opportunity to publicly post dreams, wishes


Become a doctor. Start a punk band. Build a race car. Find the love of my life. Become a mom. Live in a treehouse. Take all of my grandkids to Disneyland. Open a dog rescue. Resolve the homeless issue. Publish a book. Be me. Travel. Be a great human being. Be able to afford a house. Swim with the whales.

Licensed clinical social workers in front of Before I Die art initiative they launched in the emergency department. Licensed clinical social workers in front of Before I Die art initiative they launched in the emergency department.

These are just a few of the aspirations posted on a temporary art installation in UC Davis Medical Center’s emergency department during the past month.

The effort, launched in mid-March, gives busy ED staff the opportunity to reflect on their own mortality and publicly post an answer to the question, “Before I Die, I Want To ...”

Before I Die, I Want To ... art project at UC Davis Health

The thought-provoking initiative is the work of Melissa Morales, Susan Lewis-Pedroza and fellow licensed clinical social workers on the ED’s Crisis Team who also work to boost morale and support ED staff who are on the front lines delivering emergency care every day.  

The team helps ED patients and their families navigate the effects of life-changing injuries, traumatic events and death. Team members also look for ways to appreciate ED staff for their hard work and dedication and to foster wellbeing and a sense of community among ED staff. 

In January the team decided to hold a raffle with prizes that included whitewater rafting, cooking classes and other fun activities. They also created several spaces on the wall outside the Crisis Team office where staff could post their dreams and wishes for the future while contemplating how to complete the sentence, Before I Die, I Want To .....

Contemplating mortality and what matters most

Before I Die postings by UC Davis Health ED staff“Every day we respond to psychiatric emergencies, abuse and assault cases, and other traumatic situations, and do everything we can to help support patients and their families,” Morales said. “We work to resolve issues and then are off to the next situation. This exercise gives us a space to think about our own mortality and how short and quick life can change or end.”

Lewis-Pedroza agrees.

“We work with families who may have had a loved one die,” she said. “We are giving them some of the worst news they’ve probably ever had in their lives. The Before I Die space gives us a chance to reflect and helps to keep us present in our own relationships and with ourselves.”

The ED project is modeled after the Before I Die installation, which urban planner and artist Cindy Chang launched in New Orleans in 2013. Since then, posting one’s thoughts about mortality and hopes and wishes has become a worldwide phenomenon. 

See more of the Individual entries on the Before I Die installation at UC Davis Medical Center’s emergency department.