Image of a pen and paper

Creative writing boosts hospice patients’ wellbeing

The emotional impact of being diagnosed and living with a life-limiting illness can be a very difficult and frightening experience for many. But for those that are referred to a hospice, they will find that the care they receive is so much more than just treating the physical symptoms of their illness. At St Barnabas House in Worthing, the hospice’s Living Well service is helping boost patients’ happiness and wellbeing through a wide range of activities from relaxation and talking sessions to art classes and a new creative writing group.

Led by St Barnabas House counsellor, Chris Harris, the creative writing sessions are proving popular with patients. It’s not about perfect grammar or learning to write a novel,” explains Chris. “It’s a supportive and safe space where patients can enjoy the process and creativity of writing and perhaps find new ways to express themselves during a difficult time in their lives.”

One patient, Heather Rowlands, 58, from Rustington, has found the creative writing sessions particularly therapeutic as she nears the end of her life. So much so, that she has chosen to share a personal letter she wrote in the hope that it may provide comfort or inspiration to others in a similar situation.

“I’ve got endometrial cancer, a type of cancer that develops in the lining of the uterus,” explains Heather. “After I was told that there was nothing more that could be done, I found myself getting very depressed. Stopping chemotherapy was a big thing for me and I was missing being around people who understood what I was going through.

“Now, thanks to the hospice, I have a new community of people to connect with and I no longer feel as alone. By writing things down on paper it helps me to make sense of the thoughts spinning around my head and I get more of an idea of what I want out of life. If I choose to, I can read out what I have written to other people in the group, and I’ve found sharing experiences with others really helpful. The group is so supportive and we take strength from each other.”

During the sessions, patients are guided through writing exercises based on a different theme each week and they are free to interpret the topics in any way they like. So far, themes have included community, creating memories, challenges and a letter to a very special person.

Heather decided to write her letter to her husband, and when she read it to the group one of the other patients said what a privilege it would be to receive such a heartfelt message.

After some thought, Heather chose to post the letter to her husband so he could read it while she is alive. The honest and supportive words have helped them so much on their journey, that they have decided to also share the letter more widely. Heather says, “I hope that by reading my letter, others in a similar situation might find some comfort in it or think about doing something similar for a loved one.”

A letter to a very special person

Dear…

You are my husband, my friend, and my confidant. Somehow you have always been there for me for the last thirty-odd years. You’ve held me whilst I’ve cried and laughed with me through the years.

Your absorbent shoulders are getting quite soggy lately, but still you say I’m beautiful and that you love me. No matter how many times I’ve tried to push you away, you have always stood firm.

I need you to accept my mortality. I will die before you, but you need to be strong – the kids and grandchildren will need your strength and I know they will in turn give you theirs.

You need to find a way to still be happy, go out on your bike with your camera, cry when you need to. Seek help if you need it, don’t be ashamed to say you can’t do it on your own.

I will stay with you in your heart and only want the best for you. If you find love again, take it, just remember what we’ve had. I’ll always be grateful for the life we’ve shared. I hope you and the children have fun happy lives and remember my love surrounds you all like a blanket, I am always hugging you all and surrounding you all in love.

Heather

Creative writing sessions are just one of a wide variety of activities and services that St Barnabas House offers to holistically care for patients with a life-limiting illness and their loved ones, from diagnosis to bereavement. Find out more about our care services:

Our care