Page 15 - Demo
P. 15

WRITING IN THE WORLD PALLIATIVE CAREBeda Higgins on writing with people who are terminally illSeveral years ago, I received a Queen’s Nursing Institute Award to develop a pilot project at my local end-of-life hospice, to investigate the use of creative writing as a therapeutic tool within palliative care. The purpose of the project was to use creative writing sessions as a form of stress management – and as a source of enjoyment and perhaps even enhanced self- esteem for the people taking part.I was hoping the sessions would also help the staff at the hospice to see the participants as individuals with interesting stories rather than solely ‘patients’ needing a time and asking them to use all their senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste – brought their descriptions to life immediately so everyone felt a sense of achievement.I specified the music needed to be associated with happy memories. Likewise, when writing about adults they knew as a child, the person needed to be someone they loved, or enjoyed being with. I wanted their writing to focus on cheerful snippets of their history. This was not the time to deal with unresolved family conflict or abuse. Trying to put things right by writing about them doesn’t always work and can ignite negative feelings before any positive outcome – in a palliative care context there may not be enough time to resolve serious issues.This ‘here and now’ recall of good memories proved to be safe and comforting – and the group found they were pleasantly surprised by the quality of their own writing.Following the initial sessions, the hospice therapist asked me to run a short writing course– four two-hour workshops – for four women patients who wanted to continue developing their writing skills.The group were incredibly supportive to one another, as writers and as fellow patients. In between the writing exercises, they discussed their symptoms, pain relief, dietary advice and complementary therapies such as acupuncture. It was clear that the writing was only one aspect ofa much broader process of creativity and empathy. There is a limit to what a therapist can offer; we may try to understand a patient’s feelings, but fellow sufferers on the same painful journey have a much clearer insight into their experiences.The women said difficulty in concentrating was a very irritating side effect of illness, and agreed that our creative writing project focused their thoughts – and put the ‘normal’ back in their lives.WHERE TO START► Start by volunteering ata hospice to gain an insight into the environment you’ll be working in ( has details). You will probably see things that will upset you.► If you decide to offer creative writing workshops, you need to develop a relationship with the hospice therapist. Their approval and involvement is vital to the success of your project.► Try to involve the therapist (and staff) in the writing sessions, to dissolve any sense of ‘them and us’.► Be aware that some staff may initially resent your presence and/or feel threatened by the very idea of creative writing. Being prepared in advance can help you defuse a potentially prickly situation.► There is funding available for this work; most hospices have a budget for therapeutic activities and several charitable organisations support such initiatives.I wanted tofocus on cheerful snippets – this was not the time to deal with family conflict or abuseBEDA HIGGINS won the mslexia Short Story Competition in 2009 and has published two collections of stories – Little Crackers and Chameleon – both longlisted for the Edgehill Prize. She works in General Practice as a qualified Psychiatric andGeneral Nurse.I started with two ‘taster’ sessions for a large group. All the exercises I devised were carefully chosen to nurture participants’ imaginations and writing skills, without inducing negative feelings.As a warm-up, I asked the group to read a few carefully chosen poems, and we discussed what they liked (or didn’t like) about them – as a way of breaking the ice about poetry in general. Then I asked them to write something themselves, based on the exercises I devised. I kept the exercises tightly prescriptive and not too demanding. For example: ‘Write about a piece of music you loved as a child. Describe the music itself and where you were at that time. Who were you with? What were you doing, and wearing?’ Posing the questions oneThe group said that they wanted to write something they could ‘leave behind’ for their loved ones. This desire made me think aboutthe meaning of hope for very poorly people. Psychologists have found that once the hope of a longer life is taken away, people tend to gravitate towards more attainable goals: to see a daughter marry, for example, or to visit a memorable place. Whatever form it takes, hope is a psychological necessity for coping with extreme illness. Leaving a piece of written work operated as an important source of hope for the group.This led to the idea of publishing a booklet of each person’s work, containing two or three pieces they’d written in the course of the workshops. This would provide a tangible product, but would be far less time-consuming and/or emotionally fraught than writing an entire life story. And it could be done relatively quickly.A launch event was organised at whicheach participant read their own work aloud to family and friends. Included in the booklet are imaginative and funny pieces, mostly brief cameos in prose or poetry form. They do not tell a whole life story, but give a taste of the people the writers are. ■mslexia Mar/Apr/May 2017 15IMAGE: BOSNIAN / SHUTTERSTOCK

   13   14   15   16   17