At the beginning of August last year I was visited by two people from the West Auckland Hospice who explained the services that the Hospice provides. Like most people I was completely unaware of the many services the hospice provides for patients and their families throughout the end of life process, including all kinds of social care services. I decided to try the art therapy sessions which is described as “a creative process that helps people managing changes in their lives. It offers time with a qualified Art Therapist and provides a space for reflection and expression to help you understand your feelings and coping skills.” Best of all – no skill in art necessary!
Having become totally alienated from my body during the first five months of chemotherapy I decided to see if these sessions could help me overcome my discomfort and disgust with what my physical body had become and how hostile it felt to me. It was actually quite exhausting living inside a body that I felt completely disconnected from. I was also encouraged to take advantage of the free fortnightly half-hour massages on offer. But I repeatedly turned down the offer as I simply could not imagine anyone wanting to touch me.
After several art therapy sessions in which I drew raw and simple pictures of my body complete with my hostile digestive tract and the cancer (drawn in black crayon) and talking about my feelings, I felt a shift starting to occur. Some weeks later I felt ready to try a half hour back and shoulders massage. The very first massage was just amazing. For the first time since my diagnosis I reconnected to some positive feelings arising from my train wreck of a body. These positive feelings continued to grow and after three sessions I realised that I was now comfortably living in my body again. What a relief that was!
I continue with fortnightly art therapy sessions as I get so much out of being able to express myself on paper. The fact that I can’t draw and I am not creating works of art is not an issue. Nor is it the point of the exercise. These sessions have seen me through some really tough times as I work on expressing my feelings through my crude but immensely satisfying – and revealing – crayon drawings.
The hospice also provides many other free services such as counselling for patients and their families, carers information services, nursing and social work clinics, as well as sessions on grief and loss, and things that matter.
These services help the living make an art of dying. For me they have contributed to my well-being and to my ability to stay positive even as I approach the end of the line.