Stories from the day hospice: Life, death and an egg salad sandwich

Illustration by Marianne Dear
Illustration by Marianne Dear

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.

It was a gorgeous day outside. In the corridor of the ward, I stood, back resting on the pale walls. I was waiting for the nurse to come out of Jack’s room so I could go in and start writing with him.

Across from me, the door of another room was open. In the background, through the patio doors, I could see people working in the hospice gardens, strolling in the sun or sitting on benches, sandwiches unwrapped on their laps.

On the bed was a man. An electric shock of adrenaline shot through me in response to how grey, ill and near to death he looked. Breathing with loud, laboured inhalations, he was otherwise still, eyes closed.

With her back to me, a woman was sitting at his side, head turned towards someone at the end of the bed that I couldn’t see. She had a puzzle book open across her lap. Above the distant drone of a lawnmower I heard them discussing anagrams for the word ‘sulphur’. Further up the corridor, towards reception, a young man with the same face as the man on the bed was pacing up and down.

Three weeks later I was in a similar room in a different part of the country. Sat on a turquoise chair with a spongy seat I was having a low-volume argument with my husband about whether I was going to eat half of the egg salad sandwich I’d just bought from the hospital shop. Between us, his dad lay: eyes closed, breathing quietly, the day before he died.

Listen to Chrissie read this piece:

Chrissie Giles is a Senior Editor at the Wellcome Trust. Death: A self-portraitis open until 24 February 2013. Find out more about Princess Alice Hospice at www.pah.org.uk.

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