By Jessica Lovell
When a loved one dies, it may be difficult to talk about it. Some may have difficulty putting their emotions into words; others may feel that they are alone in their grief and do not want to burden others.
So when Hospice Wellington was approached by aspiring art therapist Nicole Fantin, the organization welcomed her with open arms, knowing that her work had the potential to help people communicate their grief and emotions.
“A lot of people find it difficult to speak about what they’re feeling,” says Hospice executive director Rosslyn Bentley. “We recognize that art therapy is a way of being able to communicate.”Fantin has been with Hospice Wellington for 16 months. “For some reason, I just can’t seem to leave,” she laughs. “When you choose a profession that really resonates, it’s a labour of love.”
Fantin, who studied English, fine art and psychology at the University of Guelph, began her stint with Hospice as an intern and is now working toward her certification as an art therapist. But her reasons for coming to the organization were as much personal as academic.
“My father passed away upstairs and I know the support they were able to give my mom,” she says, making reference to the organization’s residential hospice.
She has since run three cycles of children’s groups, two groups for volunteer care-givers and engineered two community projects – all in an effort to help others deal with the issue of death.
“When grief happens, everything changes,” says Fantin. “We’re hoping to develop an individual’s way to find new perspectives.”
The process is rife with symbolism. In the case of the Community Weave, one of the two community projects, there are obvious messages that have been contributed by community members – simple messages like “miss you,” and “I love you,” written on the strips of cloth that form the body of the project.
But the layers of meaning go much deeper.
The project was done at last year’s Hike For Hospice fundraiser. Attendees were invited to participate by selecting a strip of cloth from numerous colourful pieces on offer. They wrote their messages on the cloth and wove them into the collective project, along with coloured beads to represent lives celebrated; natural sisal and jute to represent a connection to the earth; and gold cord to represent healing and divinity.
“The idea is we’re creating a space that allows them to find alternative modes of communication,” says Fantin. But perhaps the most significant bit of symbolism was the act of doing something as a community.
“Art is a way of engaging the community,” says Bentley.
Hospice is connected with a certain level of stigma because of its association with death and dying, she explains. But engaging as a community in a project such as this one allows people to better understand that death is a normal part of life. “Grieving is normal; it’s a normal human condition,” Bentley says. “That pain is part of what makes us human.”
The results of the community projects hang in the halls of Hospice’s community floor, offering visitors a chance to appreciate their artistry and symbolism.
The children’s and youth groups also benefit from the group nature of the projects, which helps the kids to understand that they are not alone, Fantin says.
“They could be the only child in their school or their grade who has lost a parent or has lost a sibling,” she says, noting that part of her goal when she brings the kids together is to find a way to normalize the grieving experience for them.
But it’s not just grieving families of hospice clients that are benefiting from Fantin’s work with Hospice.
“Compassion fatigue is an issue for our staff,” Bentley says, describing the emotionally taxing nature of working or volunteering at Hospice.
Caregivers are more or less told to check their own feelings at the door in order to help grieving families through their difficult times, Bentley explains.
Fantin’s group for caregivers gives them an unusual opportunity to express feelings they might otherwise keep bottled up, she says. It’s been popular so far. “The next group is signed up already,” Bentley says.
Brush Off fundraiser in February
There’s good news and bad news when it comes to funding for Hospice’s Art Therapy program. The bad news: The program doesn’t have a consistent funding source. The good news: There is support in the community for keeping it going.
“People want to give specifically to the program,” says Hospice Wellington executive director Rosslyn Bentley.
While the program has already enjoyed community support, including donations of materials and labour, and monetary donations from local businesses, Hospice decided a fundraising event might also be in order.
Supporting the Art Therapy program is the goal behind Brush Off, a unique fundraiser taking place Feb. 23 at 7 p.m. at Old Quebec Street.
The event will bring 24 local artists together to compete in an elimination-style competition that asks the audience to vote for artists to progress to the next round.
Each round will see the artists paint responses to various themes throughout the evening.
As a finale, the event will result in 46 original works of art that will be up for
auction with all proceeds going to the Art Therapy program.
There are 500 tickets available and they are currently on sale at all local Scotia Bank branches. Hospice hopes to bring in $15,000 through the combination of ticket sales and auction proceeds.