The Teal Chair, a film that was nominated for the Future Filmmakers Award this year at Sun Valley Film Festival was the brainchild of Kimberly Ouwehand. Find out why the hospice community outreach coordinator wanted to create this film and how its impacted her life and others.
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Dr. Bob: Kimberly Ouwehand is a passionate Community Outreach Coordinator for Treasure Valley Hospice in Nampa, Idaho. When Kimberly got the inspiration to videotape people answering the question, “If you knew you had a limited time to live, what would you do,” amazing things started to happen. She collaborated with a local group of high school students, and what came out of it is an extraordinary documentary called The Teal Chair. The film was nominated for the Future Filmmakers Award at the 2018 Sun Valley Film Festival. In this podcast, Kimberly shares how the film came about and how its creation has impacted her life and the lives of many others in her community. I hope you enjoy it. Share with me, the listeners, a little bit about your journey, your working in hospice, and how long have you been part of hospice? How did you get into hospice, and kind of where are you in that, in the course of your career?
Kimberly Ouwehand: Well, I started out in clinical. I worked in internal medicine for about 10 years, 10 to 12 years, and kind of fell into hospice, because, and it’s kind of a different animal, because you’re in people’s homes, and you’re dealing more with people than you are the clinical side of things, and so I’ve been doing hospice for about seven years now-
Dr. Bob: Okay, and in what capacity?
Kimberly Ouwehand: I love it. I do outreach, and communication, and education, so kind of I’m a marketer for it, but I do a lot of hands-on and outreach.
Dr. Bob: Got it.
Kimberly Ouwehand: A lot of education.
Dr. Bob: I think probably a lot of people don’t realize … Well, a lot of people don’t realize a lot of things about hospice, right, but-
Kimberly Ouwehand: Yeah, that’s for sure.
Dr. Bob: When they hear “marketer,” they probably don’t understand how much that involves being with families, and patients, and kind of in the thick of things, because I know I’ve been associated with hospice for a while now, and sometimes the marketers develop such incredible relationships, because they’re the first point of contact for a lot of these folks and people who are in pretty somewhat desperate situations or very vulnerable. It’s a really important role to be playing, don’t you think?
Kimberly Ouwehand: I do. I wish sometimes we didn’t … I mean, I hate to use the word “marketer,” because traditionally it’s pushing sales and things like that. I find myself making connections and building, like you said, building relationships so that people know, like, and trust you, and they’ll call you whenever there’s question, and they don’t understand something. I feel like my reputation should be built on trust, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job of that so far.
Dr. Bob: Good. Well, you’ve expanded beyond just doing the hospice marketing to take on a whole ‘nother realm and project, so The Teal Chair. Tell us how that came about.
Kimberly Ouwehand: Well, actually, it started out with just a very simple question. I was getting frustrated that people were waiting way too long to use hospice services. I mean, hospices, it is medical, and palliative and comfort care all at home, but hospice traditionally, especially for the older generation, feels like you’re signing off on a death wish. They were missing out on a lot of other services, and I loved that hospice was all about surrounding the family with the patient and making it … Well, it is one of the most important things you do in your life is die well, but I was getting frustrated, because it’s a hard subject to bring up, and people were afraid to talk about it, and doctors were putting it off way too long.
I wondered if we’d made it more of just a simple question, “If you knew you had limited time, how does that change the way you live today?” That question seemed a little bit softer, so I thought to myself, I thought, “Well, I have this teal chair,” and I was just going to plop it in the middle of some public area and pull people off the street and just ask them a question, record it. It was going to be kind of a short YouTube video, but what happened was, I realized I had no video skills whatsoever, and my son had taken a video class at the high school, and I just liked the rawness of it.
I didn’t want it to be a production. I wanted it to be real. I didn’t want it to be … I just wanted it to be honest, and so I went and asked the teacher over at Eagle High School if he had a couple students who would do a YouTube video. He said, yeah, he had a couple students, and so he kind of … I found out later he kind of coerced them a little bit to do this death video.
Dr. Bob: They were resistant. You think-
Kimberly Ouwehand: That’s kind of-
Dr. Bob: … that there was resistance-
Kimberly Ouwehand: Yeah.
Dr. Bob: … initially?
Kimberly Ouwehand: There was a little … Yeah, but he got five incredible students to … Sorry. Incredible students to take part in it. The outcome was phenomenal. It took legs very quickly.
Dr. Bob: Yeah. I can imagine if you get the support and you get sort of the passion of youth, and it’s a creative process that the school could support. It’s one of those things that if someone takes that initiative and puts the pieces in place, people want to talk. Right? They want to talk about these issues, and they just need to, it just needs to be presented to them in a, I guess in a safe way, maybe an inspired way that you’re going to do good for other people. That’s what I’ve found. When was the, like how long did it take to produce, and what’s the status of the film, and I have a lot of questions, but-
Kimberly Ouwehand: I know. It is an amazing story. We started out at a venue called JUMP downtown. It was a great collaboration. They were doing a Day of the Dead event, and I thought it was colorful and fun, and festive. The more I learned about the Day of the Dead, the more I appreciate it, and so I thought it would be visually stimulating for the students, so we went down there, and it just grew into one team did events, did the filming of the event on the outside, people looking at the altars. There was, a Before I Die Wall was set up there. I don’t know if you know about that, but it’s an amazing exhibit.
Then the other half went up into the studio, and they were so excited because it was a professional studio. They had the green, and all the lighting and everything, and we were able to take 22 people off out of the event and bring them into the studio and ask them this question. “If you knew you had limited time, how does that change the way you live?” We interviewed people from eight years old up to I think the oldest we’ve interviewed that day was about 89. It was just, it was interesting. It wasn’t scary. It was thought-provoking, and one thing led to another, and I said, “Well, why don’t you submit it into the Sun Valley Film Festival for Future Filmmakers?” We made it instead of just a YouTube, to a 10-minute one that would fit the criteria, and submitted it, and out of about 120 across the nation, we were nominated.
There were, I think, 12 nominations. We went to the Sun Valley Film Festival, and then since then, we’re, it’s going, we’ve sent it to Washington, D.C., to the National Hospice and Palliative Association, and I’ll be submitting it into the American Public Health Association-
Dr. Bob: Awesome.
Kimberly Ouwehand: … for educational pieces, because what happened is, it just started this huge conversation, and it’s not only about dying, but it’s about the different seasons you are in your life and what that looks like and having those conversations, because you never know if you’re going to die suddenly or if you’re going to have a chronic illness that will take a long time.
Dr. Bob: One of the things that came to you when you were just posing the question to people, “What would you do differently, or how would you live, if you knew you had a limited time,” did people ask you like, “What do you mean by a limited time? Like are you talking about days or months?” Did that seem to be an issue, or did they all sort of feel like they could take that and speak to it without getting more clarity?
Kimberly Ouwehand: That’s a really … I mean, nobody’s asked me that question, but some people did, like about how much time, but most people didn’t ask. They just thought, “Okay. Where am I right now, and what’s important to me?” Like the eight-year-old said he wanted to have a pizza party, and you just realize that the shorter, the younger you are in your life, your life doesn’t expand very much, and then the teenagers, the college, they wanted to experience life as much as they could. They wanted to get out and just learn as much about the world and everything around them, and then it seems like, and I’m kind of stereotyping it a little bit, but the career, your middle-aged people would be more focused on balance of life, realizing really what is important, not working so much. The family becomes important…
Working so much, the family becomes important. And then older people got it was usually something to do with a memory, revisiting a place or a person, or for sure it was all about family.
Dr. Bob: I imagine some of them would want to have a pizza party.
Kimberly Ouwehand: Yeah, I mean, and the conversations that’s come out of it. When I set it up, I set up interviews, and we interviewed doctors, and we interviewed a couple of professional people. And we interviewed a hospice patient and a family who had hospice. When we were doing the interviews, I would think to myself; these kids are going to think it’s stupid, it was a waste of time, they’re not going to pull anything off of this interview. But what they did, and pulled, and put together, I was amazed.
I thought he knows it’s boring; they’re not going to think it’s exciting, they’re kids, you know. But they pulled stuff off that I would never have thought of. Some of the pieces that I thought were really long, I had people come up and say that really spoke to them. So you really can’t make it into one topic, it’s a super broad topic that hits people in all different areas.Dr. Bob: Yeah, it’s so personal. That’s part of the idea of how do we spend our time, what’s important to us, what do we value most? That’s what we’re getting at, and everyone has such a unique experience. So, I don’t want to put you on the spot Kimberly, but what would you want to do if you knew that you only had a limited time?
Kimberly Ouwehand: You know what, that’s-
Dr. Bob: Did you answer it? Were you interviewed?
Kimberly Ouwehand: No, I was not interviewed. And I don’t know if I really know what I would do because I feel like my life is centered around that already, that everything I do today, it matters. So I hope that when I do die, if I die suddenly, that people will look at my life as I’ve lived it, and the things that I’ve done, that I was nice, and that I was kind, and that I was just a good person, I think. But I don’t have any bucket list things. I wouldn’t do anything differently, really.
Dr. Bob: I agree with you. I’m in that same place, and it really feels good to feel like I don’t really need anything else. I probably would want to just be with my family, and have friends. I think about it, you being in the hospice world and me being, caring for people at the late stage of life and many of them in their final days and weeks of life, I think about it often. Like, where am I? Am I complete? Am I good?
It’s a really gratifying feeling to feel like I’m good to go. I would hate not seeing my son grow up and all these things. But I don’t feel like there’s anything undone or unsaid at this moment. It feels powerful to me. It sounds like you’re sort of in that same place.
Kimberly Ouwehand: Yeah, and I agree with you too, in the film, I asked one of the interviewers, what would he do? It was interesting because really, and I can see this with a lot of parents that they would hope that they had left enough of them with their children, that their children wouldn’t forget him, and his values and what he was like. I think for parents, and I’m a parent too, but my kids are getting older now and more independent, I feel I’ve done a pretty good job. But I just would want everybody to know that I did love them. The parent thing is a little hard because you’re leaving something that you can’t follow up with, I guess.Dr. Bob: Kind of unfinished. You feel like you’re not, you feel like there are a little bit more unfinished business and a gap that be left more … I agree with you more so than if the kids were already adults and launched.
Was there anything you can think of that was really surprising, that people said, that you, “Wow, that was really interesting,” or crazy…
Kimberly Ouwehand: Yeah, there was a lot of things that people that I took away from there, just with a little bit of different perspective. One person said, and I thought this was really interesting, and I think I live my life a little bit differently because of it, was, “If you give up one thing if you focus on one thing, sometimes you have to unfocus on another thing.” In other words, you can’t have it all. You can’t focus on everything because then it doesn’t, you don’t hit the bullseye, basically.
I thought that was interesting because I think sometimes we try to do too much, and we forget that you can’t. And it’s okay not to do everything. And we can’t do everything well. And that’s why we have people in our lives. That’s why we have people like you doing podcasts that are reaching out to a whole different demographic that I can’t reach, and I’m doing my thing that you can’t reach. I think that put a new perspective on a stressful job, to be honest with you.
Dr. Bob: I’m sure that the gift of being involved in that, I’m sure there were many gifts, but one of them was this new perspective and the wisdom that came out of people speaking from their heart, from this place of a different awareness than they would otherwise have.
I wonder if, how many of the people that were interviewed, who were able to share what they would do if they had limited time, started doing more of those things. If the impact is not just on the people who watch the film, but the impact on the individuals who got to reflect on that.
Kimberly Ouwehand: I feel like the interviewers that I knew, all said that they had conversations later, because their families ask, “What are you doing?” I don’t know about the other interviews, that we did at the jump event, the Day of the Dead event because I kept that anonymous, so I didn’t want to put names or tag any links on that. So most of them, I never really heard back from.
Dr. Bob: It’d be interesting if there was a way to come back and interview those people again.
Kimberly Ouwehand: That would be, I know.Dr. Bob: I think we talked a little bit earlier. I think it’s so important to get the conversation about life and death, and preparing, and living intentionally, to the younger demographic, into college age kids, and high school age kids, and even elementary school kids.
I just feel like we have become such a death-phobic culture and we don’t allow ourselves to promote these conversations. I think it just continues to, this fear continues to escalate as we get older, and no one’s having the conversations. Do you feel like the film, I haven’t seen it, I’m looking forward to seeing it, do you feel like it’s something that could be used in schools to help open up the topic and stimulate conversation and sort of a structured format?
Kimberly Ouwehand: I really do. At this point, because it really only got finished, there’s a 30-minute documentary, and that really didn’t get finished until May. So we’ll be doing more screenings, but we’re talking with BSU, Boise State University to implement that as part of their curriculum in their nursing program. And then also, with the Boise State Center of Aging and their social workers, we will probably be doing a couple of presentations with that.
The biggest resistance that I found interestingly enough is with the medical professionals, the ones that are already doctors and physicians. And that one, I’ve been very surprised at how resistant they have been in having it be presented as a topic.
Dr. Bob: And why do you think that is?Kimberly O.: I think number one, they are busy, and they don’t necessarily have the time, or maybe even the energy. I think a lot of times, after you get through medical school, you feel like you’re an expert in whatever you’re doing so you don’t think anything outside of that, except for your bubble, I think. I don’t know; I’m not a doctor.
Dr. Bob: Yeah, no, well I am, and I think those are accurate. But you said there’s resistance to actually them coming out and viewing the film, or somehow allowing it to be shown in different venues? I’m curious, it would seem to me that this is the kind of thing that anybody would benefit from seeing, and watching, and taking the teachings. I apologize on behalf of the medical specialty.
Kimberly Ouwehand: Oh no, and I don’t mean…
Dr. Bob: I do. I find myself doing that. I find myself doing that all the time. I hear people talking about all the challenges they have with the medical-
Dr. Bob: On all the challenges they have with the medical system and with physicians in particular, and I mean, I’m diverging a little bit, but I do see all the challenges, and I see physicians being stretched and very narrowly focused, and people suffer because of it. Both from when the medical care, as well as the physicians aren’t open in many cases to thinking outside the box and supporting something like this project. Anyway, I do find myself apologizing on behalf of physicians [inaudible 00:22:39] to patients.Kimberly O.: I sound like I’m bashing doctors and physicians, but I really am not. I mean, again, it goes back to the focus physicians who are specialties. They need to focus on that. They can’t be looking at every other angle, because they’ll lose their focus. They’ll lose their specialty.
I think too; they are asked to do a lot. They’re busier now than ever; the paperwork is crazy. Covering your bases all the time. Healthcare, in general, is just getting more complicated. I don’t necessarily feel that they’re being resistant, but I do feel that they can only handle what they can handle, and one more thing, even if it is outside of the box a little bit, might be just a little bit … Until they understand it, I just think it might be harder for them to grasp.
Dr. Bob: Right. I think you’re being gracious, and that’s nice, because these are the kinds of things that, yes, it’s important to focus on your area of expertise and your practice and to try to maintain balance in your life, but this is the kind of thing that helps to further our humanity, right?
Kimberly Ouwehand: It does.
Dr. Bob: I mean, this is the stuff, every physician needs to work on their humanity, on their compassion, and on their empathy. It doesn’t matter what you do, what specialty you’re in, this kind of project is something that everybody should be at least open to bringing in and supporting. That’s my thought.
Kimberly Ouwehand: Yeah, I appreciate that. I think too; I think sometimes physicians need to stop and think about their own mortality. I think they forget that they are … They’re going to die someday too, and it might help them center what’s important to them a little bit too. I would hope, I hope it’s one of those films that people take and just apply it to where they need to apply it, you know?
Dr. Bob: Yeah.
Kimberly Ouwehand: I think too, you mentioned earlier about the younger generation, the high school students, and the college students, and when we had started filming, we started filming the first week of November, and later that month, one of their classmates died in a tragic car accident.
At the end of the school year this year, one of the students at the high school committed suicide. Death is around them. It’s interesting how they handle it, though. I don’t know how they handle it, quite frankly. I don’t know if adults put what we know onto kids or if kids just know how to … It was interesting, ’cause there was hardly any talk about it at school.
Dr. Bob: It’s hard to imagine that that’s healthy. You would think at least you want to have an opening for the kids who feel like they do need to talk or to ask questions or to come together. You’d like to think that they would put that in place to give an opening for those who may be struggling with it more.
Kimberly Ouwehand: Yeah, I agree. I think they made it … I mean, I think the students know they have a counselor that they can go to. I think some of the friends, the girl that died in the car accident, they had a vigil, but it was done just through her girlfriends. It wasn’t really … They didn’t talk about it at a school level, and I just thought that was interesting.
Especially when it comes to the suicide. There have been several suicides in high schools here, and they don’t talk about it. I don’t know if that’s for the family’s sake, or how they handle that in the schools. They don’t really tell us, so it’s interesting.
Dr. Bob: Yeah. It’s scary. It’s also I think more than people realize, there’s also a lot of suicides in medical school, and physicians. It’s increasing in numbers.
Kimberly Ouwehand: I think that’s true, and there is a lot of emphasis on physicians and mental health care, taking care of their mental health. I think you’re absolutely correct.
Dr. Bob: I want to take it back to the film, and how do I get my hands on not a copy probably, but the ability to get it and show it and potentially have an event around it, or do a showing?
Kimberly Ouwehand: At this point, the 30-minute documentary, we’re editing it just a tiny bit, and it will be available by link. The 10-minute one that went to the Sun Valley Film Festival will be on our website, at TreasureValleyHospice.com. It’s not up yet, but we’re working on that. I’m happy to send you a link so you can see it-
Dr. Bob: Awesome that’d be wonderful.
Kimberly Ouwehand: … before then.
Dr. Bob: Well good. I’m excited, and this is the kind of thing we need to do more of this, and it’s cool, ’cause this is taking a softer approach, right? It’s not a death café; it’s not in your face. It’s taking the backdoor approach to are you really living your life intentionally? And doing the things that truly matter, and not … Go ahead.
Kimberly Ouwehand: I’m sorry. I keep interrupting.
Dr. Bob: No, that’s okay. This is your interview; we’re here to hear you.
Kimberly Ouwehand: I think the film really almost mirrors a little bit what hospice is because hospice is taking what’s really important to you in your life, and everything that surrounds your life at that moment in time. I feel like it’s a very softer approach to really what hospice does and is. I hope that’s what the message is, in the end.
Dr. Bob: Yeah, that’s nice. You’re right. Many people don’t get that. Society, until you’ve had a personal experience with a really good hospice team, the perception out there still for many people is hospice is basically just where you go to die, and we know that that is … There are times when that’s true when somebody’s dying, and they’re in their last stages, and hospice comes in and helps facilitate it and make it more comfortable. But there are so many people who spend months on hospice, and they live so much more richly, and so much more peacefully, because of that support. It really is about living well until you die, as opposed to just dying, and I-
Kimberly Ouwehand: And the family, too.
Dr. Bob: Yeah, that family support. I can see the film helping to further that concept and that philosophy. I’m looking forward to it, to seeing it and sharing it, and who knows what other projects you’ll be getting to next. I did an interview not long ago with Michael Rossato-Bennett, who directed the film “Alive Inside.” Have you seen that?
Kimberly Ouwehand: No, but I’d love to-
Dr. Bob: Wonderful film. It’s about music and bringing music to people with dementia, and people who are isolated. It started out as just a little project that someone asked him to come and do some filming, and out of that, he has now created a foundation, and there are iPods and headphones being given out to people all throughout the country, and it’s launched into something beyond what anyone could ever have imagined. Who knows? Something like that could be happening with you as well. You never know.
Kimberly Ouwehand: I hope so. You never know. Thank you so much, Dr. Bob.