NN was admitted to our hospital suffering from a neurological illness. Her parents shared with Chaplaincy staff that this was affecting her personality, she was acting in ways that were not really her. Unsure of whether NN herself recognised this fact, I went with some plain wooden Russian dolls to use in a new Spiritual Care activity, I had asked her previously if she would like to do something with them, and she agreed.
I went in and sat down, she excitedly told me about her home visit over the weekend, then I produced the dolls with a whole host of craft materials, pipe cleaners, glitter, googly eyes, ribbons, tissue paper, feathers….and gave her free reign to decorate how she felt like doing so. We talked about being in hospital, and how that, or things that make us ill can make us feel like different people, how about choosing some different emotions she feels and decorating a doll with each one.
I also suggested that if she wanted, one of the dolls could represent God. NN was from a family with a strong faith, although she didn’t choose to do this. She readily and eagerly agreed to doing this, and immediately pointed to different dolls giving an emotion for each one, before setting to work decorating them.
First came Happy NN, the biggest doll. This surprised me since I knew she did not like being in our hospital at all – she had shared on several occasions. ‘When do we see Happy NN’ I asked – she looked at me, with a twinkle in her eye, ‘at home and at school,’ she said.
Encouraged that her first choice was happy, we chatted a bit more before she decided to move onto doll number 2, ‘excited NN’. Another surprising choice for me, we chatted about this doll, and she comes out when there are parties to go to and such like. It soon becomes even clearer that NN was suffering just by being in a side room, alone with only family members, and separated from friends and family, who she was desperate to be reunited with.
The third doll, in the middle was sad NN. Sad NN is seen when she argues with her friends and when NN was in hospital, especially when she had to take some large tablets – something that she has struggled with since admission. They are hard to swallow and leave a bad taste in your mouth,’ she said with a sigh. I asked what we could do to make that better, and she pointed to some strawberry milkshake that she takes immediately afterwards.
Interestingly, Sad NN still had a feather in her hair (like all the other dolls). I pointed this out, NN looked at me and said, ‘yes, because even sad NN has happy moments sometimes.’ This led onto a conversation about how it’s OK to feel both those feelings at the same time, and how the Psalmist in the bible often did just that in the same Psalm, happy one moment and really sad or even angry the next.
Nervous NN came next, interestingly still with a smile. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘Nervous NN is still smiling.’ ‘Yes,’ came the reply immediately, without thinking about it, ‘because nervous NN hides it so you will never know.’ I asked if there was anyone that nervous NN could share her feelings with, happily she shared her parents and some friends. I asked if there were any doctors and nurses she could sometimes share with, she felt that there was. It was OK to be nervous about things, especially when we do not know what is happening.
Finally, we saw fun NN. Over time, I had seen this child become more confident in her surroundings, and change a little from a quiet girl, not sharing much, to one who would giggle and share more about what she likes and dislikes, so it was good to see ‘fun NN’ appear in the line-up.
As she decorated each doll I gently asked questions. It became apparent that as she was decorating, she was thinking about the questions. We often had long silences between the question and answer, not an uncomfortable one, but one which gave her time to think and express what she wanted to do, without pressure.
Occasionally a question went unanswered, it was important that she was given the time she needed to do this activity without the need for rushing. It also felt good to be expressing in the third person, for example, ‘when do we see happy NN….’ NN would often reply ‘Happy NN is when…….’ Speaking in the third person felt that it became easier to express what she wanted to do – it was about the dolls, not her directly, yet, they were her emotions being expressed.
It may have been helpful to have discussed the colours that she used for each doll – it is possible that there were also reasons for the colours which may have developed conversations further.
Finally, when all dolls were completed, we talked about all the different emotions that were represented there, and affirmed how each one was OK – and good for NN to express, and how, through each emotion, NN was still deeply loved, by her family and friends, and most especially by God.