Therapeutic art at Holy Cross Hospice

The day after Karen joins me in Gaborone we are at the Holy Cross Hospice, located in an area near Old Naledi. She meets with Pearl Ncube, the director, and they (presumably) chat about Karen’s work in the coming fortnight. Son Trevor and I look around as they meet.

The Holy Cross Hospice – emerging out of the ministry of Holy Cross Cathedral – has been at it for several decades. Medical doctor and priest Howard Moffat in particular has had a great passion for it. It remains a day center at present, but two small new buildings have been built to provide residential care for four men and four women. The last of the Ministry of Health hurdles are being addressed.

The idea of developing a therapeutic art program at the hospice is a Batswana idea, not a North Carolinian one. And Mma Pearl seems to understand it quite well. Art therapy is a professional discipline, in which therapists use art as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool. In contrast, therapeutic art recognizes that the very act of ‘doing art’ has therapeutic benefits, and often opens the way for helpful discussions with staff. It’s therapeutic art that is this hospice’s goal.

In coming days Karen does workshops with staff, initiates some art activities with patients, and goes on home visits. I become the ‘art husband’ and chauffeur her around Gaborone, stocking up on art supplies. On a final day a new small building is cleaned out, and Karen squirrels away the supplies she has purchased.

Karen bonds with Lesego, who is the senior social worker, and who guides Karen through cross-cultural pitfalls. She also ‘gets it.’ But not everyone among the patients buys into this. One woman never quite understands why they are even bothering with art, and when folks share something artistic that is supposed to reveal their hopes or their stresses or some such, she turns away. Well, fair enough. We in the Church know well that nothing connects everyone in the same way, and it doesn’t need to.

I arrive early on one of Karen’s last days. I find her in one of the new residential rooms, talking with a caregiver. ‘They talk to her,’ one staff member tells me. I never quite understand how Karen does this so well, but I suspect folks just recognize her natural empathy. Here she simply acknowledges how difficult it can be for caregivers, day after day, and suddenly they sense that they have been given permission to say, ‘yes it is,’ and away they go. ‘It’s not difficult,’ Karen says to me simply. ‘The staff can do this.’

I pray they do. 

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Holy Cross Hospice at age 20

It’s windy.


Howard Moffat is standing in the sun, outside the tent where we are all gathered. He is speaking to us about the Holy Cross Hospice, showing real poise as he holds firmly to his notes, which are blowing in the wind.

We are on the sports ground across the road from the cathedral.

This is the 20th anniversary of the creation of this hospice program, founded at the height of the AIDS pandemic. The Holy Cross Cathedral has been instrumental in support. As has Howard, a priest and medical doctor, descendant of the Moffats of 19th century missionary fame.

Holy Cross Hospice has evolved over time. The advent of anti-retrovirals has meant that a diagnosis of HIV-positive is no longer fatal. And as funding has slowly improved, there is a move from being a day centre to residential care, at least when the building is soon completed. Medical staffing is still a challenge, but it is improving.

There are two brief talks that make me wish even more that I understand Setswana. One is from a beneficiary of hospice care; the other is from a care-giver. The response of the audience makes me know it is worth hearing.

We also have entertainment. A marimba band provides an interlude between speakers. And there are some traditional dancers. And food.

As Howard expresses appreciation to the Lady Khama Charitable Trust here in Botswana, I also think of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Winston-Salem, which has organized concerts to support Holy Cross Hospice. Well done all.

And I remember a fellow priest and gentle spirit, Ralph Macy, who dies in hospice in North Carolina this week. May we give thanks for hospice… and may his soul and those of all the departed rest in peace, and rise in glory.

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