Creativity is the ability to produce or use new and unusual ideas in original and productive ways. Every volunteer and professional involved with hospice and hospice care participates in the support of the hospice patient, their family and friends, relying on their own creativity as a foundation. In turn, this sacred work supports and promotes their creativity.

Most if not all hospice programs today are rich with dedicated volunteers and professionals. Some are music lovers and talented musicians, bringing their own gift to the bedside of the aged and dying. Some raise and share special pets, whose gentleness and love is calming as well as soothingly contagious. Some draw and paint or help others to use art as a form of creative expression and healing. Many of our volunteers and staff are trained in Healing Touch or other forms of hands-on massage. Others write. A long time social worker with a Bay Are non-profit hospice program, who retired in 2019, published a book of hospice-related poetry and also wrote a play, performed by volunteers and staff members, entitled “Voices of Hospice,” both based on and sharing his experience in hospice work. He is not the only author among us. Everyone has a gift to share and is, in turn, gifted and supported by their experiences in service.

Will Holsinger, a direct care hospice volunteer since 2010, attorney, poet, author, and more, not necessarily in that order, believes that “creative people are drawn to hospice work and hospice work encourages creativity.”


The word “hospice” is derived from the Latin hospes, sites created at the end of the 11th century A.D. to provide lodging for European crusaders and pilgrims participating in the first Crusade. It was a long journey fraught with danger. Over time, the focus turned to offering rest and care for the sick and dying. Medicine at the time was rudimentary, so hospes would not have made a stark distinction between those who were sick and those who were dying. The goal of hospes was simply to comfort the ill until their death or miraculous recovery.

Much more recently, in the 1950’s, an ambitious young woman by the name of Cicely Saunders began to change the way we think about the terminally ill and in 1967, St Christopher’s Hospice, the world’s first purpose-built hospice facility, was established.

William Holsinger - Hospice and Creativity - Dame Cicely Saunders

Dame Cicely Saunders

Modern day hospice is more, however, than just a facility. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary offers two alternative definitions:

  1. Lodging for travelers, young persons, or the underprivileged especially when maintained by a religious order
  2. A program designed to provide palliative care and emotional support to the terminally ill in a home or homelike setting so that quality of life is maintained and family members may be active participants in care also: a facility that provides such a program

A hospice place, or lodging, needs to be developed, as well as maintained. It is also a service that needs to be made known. This is done by people, historically by members of a religious order. The members of the order “served” the travelers. Similarly, a hospice program is staffed by those who provide palliative care in support of the terminally ill person and their family. Some of these individuals are professionals, some are volunteers. They too serve “travelers,” bringing to bear their education, training, and experience.

The reason for and focus of this service is to provide both a physical and metaphorical “place” of respite for the terminally ill individual. Such individuals are not just housed until the time of their passing. Hospice professionals and volunteers provide much more – they give of themselves to the dying.

Our partnership is a journey
With a beginning
And an end


There are two kinds of creativity. One is the creativity that comes to a mind that is empty of ambition. Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1985), an East Indian scholar who rejected his grooming as a spiritual teacher, is one of the best-known exponents of this kind of creativity. He suggested, for instance, that writers, poets, dancers, singers, and the like do not need fame and fortune to be who and what they are. To be an artist, performer or poet, they do not first need an audience. He saw the connection between creativity and hospice:

William Holsinger - Hospice and Creativity - J Krishnamurti

J. Krishnamurti

“[W]hen there is … creativity, death has quite a different significance. … [T]he mind must be utterly still to find out. Creativity cannot be invited; it has to come to you, to the mind. … [I]t cannot come when the mind is not free.” – J. Krishnamurti, philosopher, speaker, writer.

The second kind of creativity is that which is coupled with innovation. Jonathan Feinstein, Ph.D., a professor with the Yale School of Management and author of The Nature of Creative Development (Stanford University Press, 2006), is working on a new book project that outlines a model describing the role of guiding conceptions and guiding principles in what is often called “the creative process.”

William Holsinger - Hospice and Creativity - Jonathan Feinstein

Jonathan Feinstein

This process is also known as “innovation.” Innovation transforms passive creativity into something new and different. Dame Cicely Saunders innovated, for instance, when she created the first modern hospice facility. Every professional and volunteer innovates when their innate creative talent is a part of the process.

William Holsinger - Hospice and Creativity - Fabric of Our Lives

fabric of our lives

the fabric of our lives is a rich weave
soft silks, coarse hemp, layer upon layer
a tactile madhouse of no apparent design

the artisan knows better… the artisan sees a kaleidoscope
of beauty reflected within and without, a purpose
known to each of us if we but ask

and listen for the answer

Creativity Serves Hospice
– – –
Hospice Service Encourages Creativity

Creativity is both the embodiment and the expression of who we are at our core. There are many outlets for our creative expression. Some individuals follow, or pursue, their predisposition, their talent into the work they do – their vocation. Others maintain their interest as a hobby – an avocation. Some studies suggest that creativity increases with age or that with age, experience and wisdom we develop and give expression to our preexisting and often unique talents. (The Summit on Creativity and Aging in America, National Endowment for the Arts, January 2016.) For others, our special talent appears at a young age. Jean Michele Basquiat, one of the first modern-era graffiti artists, who was recruited to enroll in an artist-oriented private school at age seven and who died at the age of 27, is one example.

William Holsinger - Hospice and Creativity - Self Portrait as a Heel

Self-Portrait as a Heel by Jean Michele Basquiat

For those who find their voice – their creativity – before their hospice work, hospice is a service and place, whether as vocation or avocation, where professionals and volunteers can give expression to their gift. For nurses and doctors, it is the gift of healing. Not everyone can sing, for example, but those who can, will often find a willing and grateful audience at the bedside of those who are ill and dying. And, as we learn to empty ourselves of the inner critic and to be a compassionate ear and vessel for the patient, family members, friends, and others who are counting days and hours and minutes, we open ourselves up to creativity in a way that J. Krishnamurti identified:

“[T]he mind must be utterly still to find out.”

Inner Voice

Our inner voice, our muse, is the crossroad between hospice service and creativity. For some, this is a voice that is clear before we find hospice work. For others, it is a voice we first hear, or that becomes clearer, after we have become involved with hospice work.

William Holsinger - Hospice and Creativity - Inner Voice

Inner Voice

For many, our inner voice may be a familiar one, while for others, it is a vague sensibility, quietly but persistently seeking attention until we finally hear it and learn the form it takes. For some, our muse becomes clearer as a result of a persistent practice of prayer and meditation. Such a practice both quiets us and opens us up.

Hospice service contributes to this because it calls upon each of us to be and become good listeners, emptying ourselves of our wants and needs and fears in order to be truly present for those we seek to hear… and to serve.

William Holsinger - Hospice and Creativity - Serving Hands

It is in prayer and sitting meditation, in these truly quiet moments, that we hear the voice that does not require expression but is willing to respond creatively to a call for compassion and understanding.

unlit, the candle waits
burning, the candle lights
a small corner of the world
and slowly dies