Surrounded by Family and Friends is a collection of six life-sized fabric and thread wall hangings that explore the relationships between dying persons and those human or animal companions they are about to leave behind. Scherer’s drawing tools are her scissors and sewing machine; she sculpts in fabric--a warm, tactile and inviting medium.

In "At Night," a dying man, though weak, is alert, conscious, and comfortable. His direct eye contact with the viewer draws us into the family grouping of standing daughter or wife with eyes downcast on one side of the bed, and a seated elderly woman and middle aged man on the other side looking at her. The artist met and did a pencil sketch study of her protagonist 21 days after he had rejected further dialysis and other treatments. Scherer documents in her notes, "He wanted his doctor to see the drawing--proof that he was still here, doing it right, dying his way. He told his wife, ’The doctor should see this! I did it MY way!’ We agreed to write those words on the drawing." (Project on Death in America newsletter, 2002: (10) p. 7)

"Open Window" shows an elderly woman in bed with a window open to a breeze that gently stirs her long gray hair splayed out around her head like a crown. Although the woman is fragile and bedridden, the hair is striking, gray with age, but thick and vital. Her cat stands sentry beside her, greeting the viewer with a steady gaze.

In "Child" a seated mother is kissing the head of the dying child on her lap. The supportive medical technology is barely visible. A teddy bear, colorful patterned quilt, and a clean gauze-like curtain communicate the essence of palliative care.

Two standing figures tenderly touch and comfort themselves and a third who is dying in bed. "Three Men" is exceptional for its unselfconscious display of the loving relationship between the subjects. They might be brothers or friends, lovers, or professional caregivers. Intergenerational and non-traditional families from culturally diverse groups apply to all six of these works.

"In Her Room" appears to be a husband and wife, though the actual relationship doesn’t really matter. Directly gazing at the viewer, the calm subjects invite us into the comfort and intimacy of this moment. The "husband" might well be the caregiver. He sits close to the woman’s bed, his hand wrapped firmly around her outstretched arm.

"Bigger than Each Other" is a composition of a couple seated on a couch holding hands, fingers entwined. The woman--with tubing supplying nasal air/oxygen--is enveloped in the body of her husband (partner? Physician?). Although physically present to each other in an embrace, they appear to be lost in their separate thoughts.


Used in a variety of clinical teaching and support-group settings, these six "visual case studies" elicit thoughtful narratives and commentaries. (See "Staying Soulful" columns in AAHPM (American Academy for Hospice and Palliative Medicine) Bulletins, especially Spring, 2003 pp. 14-15)

Robert Pope’s work collected in Illness and Healing: Images of Cancer, David’s The Death of Socrates, Fildes’s The Doctor, Layton’s The Courtroom, Munch’s Compassion, Tooker’s Corporate Decision, and Rembrandt’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph, to mention but a few (all annotated in this database) would be excellent complementary and contrasting counterparts.


Surrounded by Family and Friends was supported by a grant from The Project on Death in America, Open Society Institute and is available as a traveling exhibition.

Primary Source

Surrounded By Family and Friends, color catalogue. See: