Metro-East News

Wally Spiers: Deep emotions fill ‘Before I Die’ boards

Wally Spiers
Wally Spiers

“Before I die I want to learn to love unconditionally,” says one of the posts on the “Before I Die” wall on the side of the Miscellanea House at 1111 W. Main St. in Belleville.

Other posts give the desire to travel, whether to exotic destinations or just up in the air, like in a hot air balloon.

The wall is part of a global public art project that invites people to reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in a public place.

The idea originated with artist Candy Chang in 2011 in New Orleans. After someone she loved died, she was suffering from depression, so she put chalkboard paint on the side of an abandoned house and invited people to write what they would like to do before they die. It drew a great response and has spread around the world.

Similar walls belong to Hospice of Southern Illinois and travel any place someone may be promoting or speaking about hospice, said Leigh Sindelar, hospital and community health liaison for Hospice. One of their walls is on display at their building at 300 E. Main St. in Belleville.

“We take our portable wall to health fairs and community events,” Sindelar said. “It is an ice breaker. It helps start conversations about end of life decisions and hospice itself. It helps spread awareness that hospice is about how you live and makes it easier to talk about hard topics like death.”

Sindelar said she saw the idea at Sharon Egler’s Miscellanea House.

I leave the chalk out 24 hours a day and people are free to write what they want.

Sharon Egler with the Miscellanea House in Belleville

Egler said their board has been up for about a month and is full of observations from random people as well as friends and family.

“I leave the chalk out 24 hours a day and people are free to write what they want,” she said. “I’ve only had to erase a couple of things that I thought weren’t appropriate.”

The board is on the east side of the café building and is covered in chalkboard paint. Some of the sentiments, while short, do express what seem like some deep emotions.

“Swim with the dolphins,” one says.

“Make a difference,” another says.

“Be the person others would like to be like,” says another.

“Feel wanted,” another says.

Some ask the seemingly impossible, “Live in a neat, clean, organized house.”

A few of the messages are in different languages including Spanish, Italian, Chinese and Hebrew. The board is somewhat protected from the weather but Egler said it has seen some fading. After all, the messages are in chalk and can’t last forever.

“Eventually we will take a picture to save the messages,” she said. “But I haven’t had the heart to erase it yet.”

The project is ongoing so the board will be available for more messages, plus Egler plans to add another board.

The William & Florence Schmidt Art Center at Southwestern Illinois College also had a “Before I Die” board.

You can visit the Hospice board at and add your dream or just drop by the Miscellanea House and pick up a piece of chalk.