After nearly two years of almost exclusively online content provision, it was fantastic to welcome 150 people in-person to two conferences at St Christopher’s CARE this autumn.
For the Facing Death Creatively conference in November, this was the fifth year we’ve brought together arts and music therapists with palliative and bereavement practitioners to share their successes and challenges in using creative arts to help people deal with death and dying.
Meanwhile, Frailty and End of Life: It’s Time to Act, was the first time we’ve hosted a major conference on this crucial topic.
Writer and broadcaster Michael Rosen was the keynote speaker at Facing Death Creatively, which this year showcased some of the best examples of ways in which the creative arts have overcome the many challenges of the pandemic to provide support and give meaning to the end of life and bereavement.
Michael’s presentation drew on personal experiences, notably the death of his son as well as his own brush with death when he was gravely ill with COVID-19 in 2020. To aid his own recovery, both physical and mental, Michael employed his creative skills. When asked by one of the delegates about the role of occupational therapy in his recovery, the former Children’s Laureate, responded with a poem describing his encounter with an occupational therapist. “That was his way of processing stuff,” said St Christopher’s Art Therapist, Lara Fletcher-Cooke. “He spoke of his journey into recovery with a lot of humour and animation, so much so that I could really see him in his hospital bed.”
Lara led the St Christopher’s workshop which focused on the theme of disconnection and reconnection. Delegates were separated into groups and given a box containing a selection of items including lots of red string, masks and labels and asked to create something relating to the theme. By the end of the session, St Christopher’s CARE was transformed into what looked like a massive spider’s web. One delegate said it was a vibrant web of meaning, reconnecting through several spaces.
Perhaps the most moving and raw session was a presentation by photographer Celine Marchbank who reminded delegates what the day was all about – facing death creatively. That’s exactly what Celine did. She chronicled the final period of her mother’s life, including her death and the period afterwards when she had to sort through her possessions. Celine’s work showed how it has been possible to connect and relate and create a sense of communal mourning in the age of COVID.
Among the many positive pieces of feedback, one in particularly stood out. “This was the best CPD session I have attended in a long time.”
At Frailty and End of Life: It’s Time to Act, we brought together a network of people, that spans health and social care providers, policy makers, commissioners and local leaders who share an ambition to do things differently in relation to frailty and end of life.
The mix of contributions from our excellent line-up of speakers, the roundtable discussions and interactive lived-experience sessions made for a compelling event.
The aim was to highlight clearly the many real challenges facing people living with frailty and those who care for them. Whether it was Sarah Mistry, CEO of British Geriatrics Society, underlining the ageism experienced by many older people, or the inequalities inherent in the current system, as emphasised by Patrick Vernon, Associate Director of Centre for Ageing Better, the speakers clearly laid the foundations for changing the experience of people living and dying with frailty.
For many, it was the session facilitated by Helen King, Project Manager, Age Attuned Palliative Care, at St Christopher’s, that struck a chord. Hearing the real life experiences of people living with frailty underlined what a pressing and present issue this is and how we all have a part to play in addressing it.
We look forward to welcoming you back for more in-person conferences and events at St Christopher’s CARE in 2022, so look out for the new programme to be published soon.
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