If you have ever seen or held a copy of The Lost Words, you will know why it has captured hundreds of thousands of hearts and minds since publication. Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’ award-winning 'spell-book' - fast becoming a cultural phenomenon - conjures back in word and image the wonder of everyday nature and its names, from "conker" to "kingfisher", "dandelion" to "wren".
In the NHS, we have discovered that The Lost Words has healing and life-affirming properties too. Many patients derive great joy and comfort from nature and, in palliative care, we have been struck by how often, and how intensely, some terminally ill patients find solace in the natural world.
The Lost Words has encouraged some of our terminally ill patients to sit a little less fearfully with their own mortality. “When you come to the end of your life, you get the sense that you don’t want to lose yourself, you want to be able to pass something on,” one patient, Diane Finch, explained. “When I had whole brain radiotherapy, I felt as though something had dropped out, as if everything I said needed to be saved. It was all running away from me.”
Inspired by The Lost Words and the everyday experience of listening to a blackbird’s song, Diane worked with a hospice music therapist to record a song that, in her words, “allayed that fear that everything was going to disappear, to be lost forever.” Other patients have created their own poems and paintings.
The Lost Words for Hospices Project aims to bring the joy, wonder and solace of nature into the lives of patients with terminal illness by donating a copy of The Lost Words to every one of Britain’s 220 hospices.
Thanks to the generous support of Robert Macfarlane, Jackie Morris and their publishers, Penguin, we will be able to purchase copies at a special discounted bulk buy price. A total of £3000 will enable us to give a book to every UK hospice.
If we surpass our £3000 target, we have a stretch target of a further £3000 to launch a special Lost Words fund at Sobell House Hospice in Oxford. This fund will be used to decorate the walls of a new wing of the hospice, currently being built, with Robert and Jackie’s words and images, and to fund activities relating to The Lost Words and to nature more broadly, such as music and art therapy inspired by the book.
Jackie and Robert’s support
Jackie Morris writes:
“The Lost Words was a real heartsong for both myself and Robert. We have made so many new friends through the book since its publication almost a year ago, and many people have taught us things, told us stories, about the book. Foremost of these have been tales from people who have been spending their last moments in the pages of the book, finding comfort in the words and images, finding their voices, finding peace and a harbour for the soul.
Hospices are places of life and love and caring. If we can be a small part of that, support them in the work they do, to help people to live well, then we will do all that we can to help.”
Robert Macfarlane writes:
"To think of The Lost Words being used in hospices is deeply moving and humbling to me. It is simply a privilege to be involved in supporting the extraordinary work of hospices and their staff, and bringing nature into end-of-life care in this way."
Why am I doing this?
As a palliative care doctor, I believe passionately that hospices are places of love and life, in which we strive is to enable our patients to live as fully and meaningfully as possible, right until the end.
Having seen first hand how captivating some of my patients have found The Lost Words – and how vividly it has chimed with their love of the natural world – I believe this crowdfunder has the potential to bring enormous pleasure and joy to terminally ill patients.
Robert Macfarlane once said that “The Lost Words was a book made in a spirit of hope” and, perhaps, just as “nature is never spent” (in the words of Gerald Manley Hopkins) nor is the human capacity for wonder, even as our lives ebb away. You can be too weak to lift your head from your hospice pillow, yet still turn your cheek towards the sunrise outside.
I hope this crowdfunder will bring sunshine into Britain’s hospices.
Dr Rachel Clarke
NHS palliative care doctor