Throughout the summer of 2012, Chrissie Giles spent time at the day hospice at Princess Alice Hospice, Esher, running a creative writing group. In a series of posts accompanying our exhibition Death: A self-portrait, she reflects on her experiences there and showcases some of the writing produced by group members.
Fourteen of us crammed into the room. The aircon was fighting noisily against the clammy July air, bodies arranged in a variety of chairs in a very approximate circle.
I pulled an assortment of things from a carrier bag and spread them along the length of the table. There was a long, gold-coloured key, a small wooden box painted in bright colours showing a chicken, a round paperweight containing dried flowers, a small piece of driftwood full of tiny holes and a red die.
Pick an object and describe it. What questions would you ask it? What answers would you give?
Freddie* didn’t pick an object but created a story that incorporated them all – the box was opened by the key, and inside sat another object, too big in reality to fit. He’d made sense of all of the things presented in a way he was comfortable with, even if his logic wasn’t shared by everyone. Always ready with a crack, Freddie stumbled as he read his writing aloud and declared: “I’m a great writer, but not a great reader.”
Eileen, who has a degenerative neurological condition, rolled the die around her palm. “I chose it because it’s exciting,” she said. The driftwood captured several people’s imaginations, prompting one person to talk about their own life living across the ocean in Ireland. Brian loved the box and decided it was one of a set, yet this one was the special favourite.
At the end, as we left the room, some of the group asked me where the box was from, but I couldn’t give them the answer – I can’t remember when I got it, or where from. Their answers were better, anyway.
*This name has been changed.
Listen to Chrissie read this piece:
Chrissie Giles is a Senior Editor at the Wellcome Trust. ‘Death: A Self-portrait‘ is open until 24 February 2013. Find out more about Princess Alice Hospice at www.pah.org.uk.