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Hospice Wellington & Immigrant Services Guelph Wellington: Tending to the soul

October 12, 2016

As I walked through Old Quebec Street Shoppes on Wyndham Street (in Guelph) in late September, I was drawn to a large sign inviting me into a shop to view an art exhibit exploring the life stories of elders from diverse cultures. The care and attention given to setting it up was profound and heartwarming. There were splashes of meaningful and colourful items everywhere, such as small bowls containing spiritual offerings of dried berries, stones, fruits, seeds, flowers, and leaves.

But the main attraction was the collection of vibrant “soul collages” created by over twenty Vietnamese, Chinese, Iranian, and Spanish elders. To make the collages, they layered and combined images that had special meaning to them, and that somehow represented their life journey and inner self. Each collage was accompanied by a story that described the meaning behind the different images chosen by the elder.

This exhibit was part of a nine-week program called Partnerships Connecting Cultures, the second such partnership between Hospice Wellington and Immigrant Services Guelph Wellington (the program was funded by Musagetes). Throughout the process, the elders (aged from 55 to 70+) explored themes related to family, tradition, home, community, and grief. Using simple art materials, they created collages to reflect their experience and beliefs around these themes.

Nicole Fantin, the art therapist at Hospice Wellington and the coordinator of the program, is passionate about the program and its benefits. Giving immigrants a space to honour where they came from can help them to better integrate into another country and place. The communal nature of the program also allowed the elders to build community by sharing their experiences and creating art together in a safe space.

Fantin adds: “The space that we provided at Hospice for the past two years allowed the elders to explore themes of life and death experiences using art as the primary vehicle for communication. A challenge in many organizations is that English is the first language, which can create barriers for people to actively engage and communicate, so this seemed like an ideal intervention strategy to support people where English was not their first language.”

Fantin’s care about being inclusive extends even further. She intentionally looked for magazines, catalogues, calendars and other resources that would provide collage images that would be culturally familiar to the diverse group of elders.

Although the elder participants themselves were not living with a life-limiting illness, they valued being able to express and process both joy and grief over the loss of someone in their life through art therapy. Below are just a few of their comments:

  • “My soul was released. My anxiety was relieved.”
  • “I know how to deal with the grief over someone who passed away. I understand how creative arts help the understanding and communication among people.
  • “I’m very happy to participate these activities which make me very comfortable and in good health for both mind and body. Thank you very much.”
  • “I am grateful for the opportunity to share our inner feelings, express our inner fears and happiness. A great experience.”

The lovely exhibit will move to Immigrant Services for a few weeks, and then make its way back to Hospice Wellington. Below are selected soul collages (the lighting in the room was quite dim and conditions were not ideal for picture-taking).

Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership

Guelph-Wellington Local Immigration Partnership