8-year-old Alice (name has been changed), the granddaughter of a patient, had always been a sensitive and empathic child who would cry when hearing about death or watching scenes from TV portraying death. Alice’s mother decided to keep her from visiting her seriously ill grandfather during his stay in the hospice and from attending the wake and funeral when he passed on, as she was afraid that it would be too emotionally overwhelming for her. As such, Alice did not have a chance to see her grandfather before he died nor say goodbye upon his passing. Alice dreamed of him, cried and wondered why people had to die. Alice’s mother agreed to a referral for art therapy sessions with our Art Therapist Vivian Wong from the Bereavement Care Team, to find out if art therapy may provide deeper insights into Alice’s thoughts and how she was coping emotionally.
Vivian saw Alice and her mother for three sessions. In the first session, Vivian conducted a warm-up art activity to get to know them and to get a sense of the dynamics between mother and daughter. The topic of grief, loss and rituals arose when Alice spoke about her pets dying. Alice expressed misgivings about being excluded from her grandfather’s last rites, and her mother had the opportunity to explain her reasons for it.
In the next session, Alice painted a memory box to remember her grandfather with. Alice consulted her mother and included elements related to travelling and drinking, which her grandfather loved, on the box cover. Subsequently, she created roses with air-dry clay to be placed inside the box. Her mother worked alongside, creating a round paperweight, with a heart in the centre with Chinese characters that conveyed “I love you, Father”. Alice raised questions like what staff did when patients die, whether the bodies looked scary, and how did her grandfather look when he passed on. Vivian answered her queries and her mother assured her that her grandfather passed away looking peaceful. Alice expressed feeling “weird” that “Gong Gong” was no longer with them, to which her mother said with teary eyes that “it takes time” for them to get used to it.
In the final session, Alice told Vivian that the completed memory box was placed near to her bed. She co-created a friendship bracelet with Vivian and wore it on her wrist as a parting gift. Vivian said, “The sessions provided a safe space and dedicated time for Alice to express her thoughts and to seek answers surrounding the patient’s death; and for her mother to explain her decision and actions. Both daughter and granddaughter were given the opportunity to create tangible items to remember the patient with. They had the chance to express their love and wishes for the patient symbolically with their artworks kept safe in a box, which engendered a sense of closure and continuing bonds with the late patient. There was mutual holding between mother and daughter as they honoured their loved one in the same space. Working together and listening to each other affirmed the trusting relationship they share. “