Family stories

Helen and Adrian’s story

The hospice art room has helped husband and wife, Helen and Adrian, in different ways. For Adrian, it was a place where he could forget he was ill and pursue his passion for photography, and for Helen it is now somewhere she can start to process her grief and connect with others who understand. 

“Adrian would do anything for anyone”  

Always giving. Always kind. Adrian was a teacher by trade and delivered engineering and motorsports courses at a local college for many years. He had high standards and a great sense of humour, and the way he approached everything with such passion and positivity made a big difference to people’s lives – in and out of work. 

Even after Adrian was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – a type of blood cancer – in 2010, he always had an unwavering positive determination and an enormous smile on his face. When his illness meant he had to retire early, Adrian continued to help anyone he could. He built a huge workshop in our garden and used his mechanical engineering skills to repair and rebuild other people’s cars. He loved a challenge! 

Adrian had been living with multiple myeloma for about twelve years when he was referred to St Barnabas House. We were coming to the end of treatment options and he was starting to get more symptomatic. After visiting the hospice for some exercise classes, Adrian found out about the art room and a photography course that was running. He’d always had a passion for taking photos and wanted to develop his skills and learn how to use his camera equipment better.  

Montage of Helen and Adrian

“The photography sessions were something different and positive to focus on”  

The impact the photography course had on him was huge. It was like a eureka moment. He loved meeting other patients and found Stevan, the artist-in-residence, to be so patient and knowledgeable. For a man like Adrian who was so structured and exact in his approach to things, Stevan encouraged and taught him to think outside the box with his photography. After each session, he’d bounce back through the doors and say to me, “I feel so normal when I’m there that I forget that I’m even ill.” The smile on his face would last for days.   

“The course encouraged us to do new things together” 

Adrian would be set homework, which would often result in us having an unexpected day out together with his camera. One of the tasks was to capture different types of light and I have memories of us strolling along the beach at sunset and Adrian sat on a bench looking out to sea, waiting for the light to be perfect. Another time, we visited the hospice gardens with our dog, Mollie, and sat peacefully by the water fountain so he could practice taking photos of moving water. 

During his time visiting the art room, Adrian was also diagnosed with bowel cancer. It was a shock for both of us, but the photography outings continued to bring some much-needed balance and normality to both our lives. Those memories are now even more precious, because just five months after his bowel cancer diagnosis, Adrian died. He was only 55. 

Image montage of Helen and Brighton pier

“The art room is there for me now, like it was for Adrian” 

After Adrian’s death, I went into autopilot because that’s my way of coping. I had lots of people around me who could have helped organise his funeral, but I wanted to do it all and for it to be perfect. And whilst I’m lucky to have an amazing support network, grief still left me feeling lonely and isolated. Because, until you have experienced the pain of loss, I don’t think you can fully understand how it feels. 

What has helped me most is being part of the hospice’s bereavement art group. Just like Adrian did, I now visit the art room where I am able to be with people who are on a similar journey. Whether they have lost husbands, wives, children, or friends, we can all speak freely about how we’re doing and there is no expectation to be chipper all the time. Everyone has a different experience of grief and talking to others reinforces that your feelings are normal and you’re not going mad!  

“I’ve found a new way to express my grief” 

I wouldn’t say I’m artistic – I’m not a painter and I don’t draw. But what I’ve found since working with Stevan, is that experimenting with different ideas has opened me up to a whole new way of expressing myself. It’s almost like I can create a visual image of how I’m feeling, and it’s given me a new outlet for my grief. 

The first pieces I created were very geometric and structured – quite the opposite of how I was feeling. Looking back, I think there was a need to maintain order because so much felt out of control. I also did a piece of work around Adrian and my birthdays, and I can see now that the dark colours were reflective of how I was feeling at that time. I feel like I’m coming out of that stage now because the piece I’m working on currently is of flowers, and even features some glitter!  

Montage of Helen's art

“It’s been over eight months since Adrian died and my grief is unpredictable” 

There are days when I’m not motivated to do anything, and others where I realise I’ve got through 12 hours without thinking about what’s happened – then I’ll feel bad, so I’ll cry. 

You might talk to me and think I’m happy as Larry, but there is always still a part of me that’s not fully engaged in my smile because I miss Adrian so much. I can’t foresee a time where my grief is ‘cured’, but one thing I know is how important the bereavement art group is for my journey. I’m learning so much about myself and it’s helping me to express my grief in a way I could never have imagined. 

Could you help people like Helen and Adrian?

It costs nearly £10million every year to provide hospice care for local people. Only 22% comes from central government, the rest comes from the amazing donations we receive. We couldn’t do it without you.

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A group of nurses outside the Hospice