St Christopher’s in India

Lara Cooke, Art Therapist at St Christopher’s, recently returned from an inspirational trip to India…

Narratives East West is a project I worked on run by the Fabrics and Threads group at St Christopher’s. Participants created an individual ‘pocket patch’ that made up part of a quilt. The pockets could contain artwork, relics, memories, creative writing or poems the personal journey of that person’s loss.

The final quilt was sent to Ganga Prem Hospice (GPH) in Rishikesh, India with the meaning and symbolism of each patch translated into Hindi and shared with patients, the bereaved and staff. In exchange, St Christopher’s received a quilt made by a group at Ganga Prem Hospice which is now on display in the hospice. The project allowed for an exchange and sharing of the meaning of loss.

When I first arrived at the main GPH office in Rishikesh I was greeted with warmth and appreciation by the devoted team of doctors, nurses and staff. There was a huge amount of spirited energy and passion amongst staff and the day ahead was planned with a flurry of momentum. During my time at GPH I organised an event for the bereaved, which used music and art therapy to commemorate the lives of deceased patients. Such social events are novel at Ganga Prem but we created a ‘tree of remembrance’, and people placed photos of the deceased around the tree. Following this they drew or wrote a personal message to their loved one on a fabric leaf along with lighting oil lamps and decorating the tree with flowers. The artwork felt alive as it grew and changed shape, like an organic sculpture. Loss and grief have become more private and less of a shared communal experience in the West but there was a strong sense of unity, held together through the music and artwork.

Later in the week we hosted an art therapy bereavement group and the good turnout indicated that there are bereaved people in the local community seeking emotional care, especially those isolated without family support. Those who attended made artwork for the St Christopher’s quilt. Hopefully this group can now continue monthly and be run by a volunteer. Having visited the new hospice building I have no doubts that GPH will continue to grow, deliver excellent palliative care and give the local community the help they deserve.