The Full Angel
Written & read by Susan Poulin
“It feels like I’m on a ride at the fair, a rollercoaster, and I’m balanced at the top of a rise on the track and just like that, I’m no longer going up, I’m racing down and my stomach hasn’t caught up with me. That’s what it feels like. One second I’m laughing hard and then, just like that, I start to cry.”
In “The Full Angel,” award-winning writer and performer Susan Poulin creates a series of concise, arresting vignettes that chronicle the death of her mother, her family’s struggle and courage, and the healing power of love. In a surprising combination of humor, guilt, despair, and acceptance, Susan creates a portrait of a family reshaped by circumstances beyond their control. This moving, searingly honest memoir will make you cry, make you smile, and make you grateful for the people in your life. “The Full Angel” is a celebration of life, loss, love, and hope.
“The Full Angel” is designed to generate discussion for those directly affected by terminal illness, and allows health care workers to reconnect with their own mission as support people.
Note: There is no fee for this presentation. It is asked that gas, food and lodging be provided if the performance is more than an hour away from Susan’s home in southern Maine.
“The Full Angel” was refreshingly real and honest. It could and should serve many different functions in both the medical and in the lay community. A powerful and emotionally riveting performance, it is also an educational and thought-provoking tool that would be helpful to the health care community as well as to special interest groups and public forums. It takes death, an often forbidden topic of discussion in our society, names it, deals honestly with it, takes the fear of mortality out of it, and makes it into an ultimate expression of life itself. — Craig Hurwitz, MD Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Vermont Medical School Director of the Maine Medical Center for Pain and Palliative Care Clinical Hematology/Oncology
I experienced this important work as the physician leader of the Kenneth Schwartz Center Rounds, and I feel very qualified to comment on the qualities of the performance that made it so personally satisfying, thought-provoking, and inspiring.
As a practicing oncologist, the opportunity to witness the raw emotions and thoughts of a family caretaker coming to grips with her mother’s cancer was an insight that physicians rarely if ever get the chance to experience. Her story was intensely sad and moving, as well as humorous at times, and gave me a perspective that I had never before considered. Medical schools and residency programs offer little to no education in helping young physicians deal with end of life issues, and this powerful story would be a perfect and safe forum for young doctors to learn firsthand how dying affects an entire family, and how powerful the simple words and actions of a medical provider are in creating or reducing the hope that a family and patient need to continue to live on under harsh and unforgiving circumstances.
“The Full Angel” had everything, and Ms. Poulin’s gifted storytelling ability allowed the audience to experience a full range of emotions including grief, loss, love, anger, relief, and the simultaneous sadness and beauty in a “good death.” The discussion that arose at the end of her performance was equally rewarding. In this technological and fast-paced world, we rarely have the opportunity to think about our own personal beliefs and values.
Ms. Poulin’s performance of her play, “The Full Angel” was refreshingly real and honest. It could and should serve many different functions in both the medical and in the lay community. A powerful and emotionally riveting performance, it is also an educational and thought-provoking tool that would be helpful to the health care community as well as to special interest groups and public forums. It takes death, an often forbidden topic of discussion in our society, names it, deals honestly with it, takes the fear of mortality out of it, and makes it into an ultimate expression of life itself.
Craig Hurwitz, MD
Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Vermont Medical School
Director of the Maine Medical Center for Pain and Palliative Care
Susan Poulin’s “The Full Angel” is a story with the power to teach, encourage and refresh caregivers of all kinds. It stands on its own as a story worth telling for its ability to reveal the richness and comedy of our human experience of life and loss. But additionally Susan’s utter candor offers professional caregivers an uncommon depth of insight into the mind and heart of family members on the end of life journey and offers enough doses of happiness and humor to balance that intensity. Professionals will find a welcome challenge in “The Full Angel” to do better, to understand more deeply and respond more effectively. Professionals will be refreshed by the celebration of a job well done and by the reminder that authenticity is a greater value than perfection.
Executive Director, Hospice of Maine
“The Full Angel” was an intense, honest, at times humorous, sad, joyful and life affirming experience. I have rarely known a Schwartz Rounds in which the riveted attention of the staff was so dramatic. It was as if Susan had been able to hold a mirror up to the professionals and say this is what a family experiences when a cancer diagnosis begins the long requirement for family coping.
I envision this work having a place in a number of venues including within the hospice community. It is an educative tool, equally appropriate for lay persons as it is for medical providers.
Heather Taylor Davis, RN, MS, CS
Facilitator Kenneth B. Schwartz Center Compassionate Caregiving Rounds, Maine Medical Center
I had the pleasure of attending a performance of “The Full Angel” as part of my work with the Choices for End of Life Care project of Medical Care Development, Inc., in partnership with Maine Medical Center. I was truly impressed both personally as well as with the reaction of the audience as a whole. The effect on those in attendance was palpable and generated invaluable discussion. That she was able to move an audience who experience death and loss regularly in the course of their jobs speaks to Ms. Poulin’s ability to present this material in an engaging and poignant manner. The piece was at once humorous, personal, and unsentimental. It inspires a greater understanding and appreciation for how this experience can affect an individual, a family- and a community.
I fully recommend “The Full Angel” as an educational tool for both professional and informal caregivers as well as others working in the field of end of life care. The piece worked perfectly as a means of generating discussion on end of life care issues and in presenting a fresh perspective on contemporary end of life care. This piece is particularly useful in working with health care professionals who don’t often have much opportunity to see their work through the patient’s eyes- such an experience allows for greater compassion in working with those facing end of life care decisions.
Kristin M King
Assistant Project Director
Medical Care Development, Inc.
“The Full Angel” speaks to the heart. Anyone who has ever cared for someone with cancer, or, for that matter, any terminal illness, could take this journey with Susan in the first person. How many of Susan’s journal entries could have been my own during my sister’s illness? How many reflected the universal themes of unconditional love, frustration, tumult, grief, despair and hope?
As staff members from the American Cancer Society, we shared with Susan her twelve month journey with her Mom, connecting with our mission on a deep and personal level. Working with cancer survivors on a daily basis, our ACS staff was reminded of the roller coaster ride taken by the patient and their loved ones as they walk this path. Through laughter and tears, we acknowledged the importance of the work we do.
“The Full Angel” captures the essence of our humanity–strength and frailties alike, reminding us gently of our own mortality while helping us transcend that mortality to a place of hope and new beginnings.
Susan Kuhn, MS
Community Executive, Cancer Control
American Cancer Society, New England Division
Susan shared “The Full Angel” with our Bereavement Group. I was greatly impressed by Susan’s ability to be expressive and articulate her thoughts. She was able to put into words all the care, energy and compassion given her mother during the final months. In my opinion, “The Full Angel” should be shared with others as it is inspiring and reminds us all about the gift of being a family.
Linda Flowers, Co-facilitator
Hospice of York, York, ME
During a recent meeting of our bereavement group, we were fortunate to hear Susan Poulin share “The Full Angel”, her rendition of her mother’s experience of living with cancer. You will note that I came away with the distinct feeling that Susan’s mother did indeed live with cancer versus die of it. Hearing her story is like reading a book in which you admire and learn so much from the characters that you want the story to never end, even though you know the end is inevitable. As I write this, I feel that Susan’s mother will live forever through those that love her so dearly. It is said that as long as someone remains in your heart they will never truly die. Her story will always remain in my heart.
Mary Ellen Peterson, Co-facilitator
Hospice of York, York, ME
Recently I heard Susan Poulin share her very new piece titled “The Full Angel.” I was in awe of Susan’s ability to write and tell this story in a way that allowed a full range of feelings to be experienced. One minute tears were quietly streaming down my face. The next moment I was roaring with laughter listening to her truthful confessions. It is a brilliant and beautiful piece.
Growthworks Life Coach
I’ve heard readings of “The Full Angel” three times. Susan’s clear images of a loving family facing loss are written and delivered with honesty and humor. Her stories evoke no tear-jerky sentimentality, but simply invite the listener in to share experience. Listening to her words gave me the openness to visit the emotions of my own loss. I want to hear them again.