A Whobody Place

A Whobody Place

By Ted Bowman

(For over 20 years I have had the privilege of working annually in England and Scotland. The year 2000 was the year of my first work with a children’s hospice there – Little Bridge House in Kent. Since that year, I have worked with numerous children’s hospices, spoken at national and regional conferences for those working in such settings, and consulted with teams from various hospices. This past autumn, I was at Hope House in Shropshire and Julia’s House in Dorset. I also met with a team from Naomi House.

The following is an adapted version of the foreword for A Place To Be, published by Martin House in 2008 to mark 20 years of operation. This adapted version reflects my yearning that Crescent Cove will be a “whobody” place from now until a building opens and beyond.)

Once upon a time, I discovered a book, now regrettably out of print. It was the story of the difference between anybodies and whobodies. Whobodies, I read, are different, especially for children, because whobodies are real, honest, fun, and want to be with children. Anybodies tolerate children but clearly have other, more important to them, things on their mind than children. Children know the difference between anybodies and whobodies.

It was many years after reading the book that I met whobodies who worked at a whobody place. It was called Martin House Children’s Hospice. I was not sick when I stayed at Martin House (three times), but I was clearly better when I left. And, unknown to the staff, I took just a little bit of the special air and spirit with me when I left. I am now planting Martin House Whobody Seeds in Minnesota.

Picture a group of children who are invited to imagine the best of places to be IF, really IF, you happened to be SICK, really SICK. Many suggestions are put on a list: favorite places like mountaintops, forests or seashores; places where you could play, even if ill; a place where your friends could come. That it had to be a place of fun as well as where good care is provided comes up again and again. Laughter and tears are to be allowed and encouraged. And not all the carers would be old people! The children could care for each other too.

Martin House is that rare place that embodies a match between environment and staff, between what is said and what is done, between what is in the mission statement and what occurs everyday, between the original dream and the emerging vision. Martin House is more than a place; it is more than its staff. It is a Whobody Place.

Yes, some illnesses are contagious. So are hope, authenticity, teamwork, and living as fully as you can for as long as you can. Martin House knows that!

Like many previous projects and movements, Crescent Cove is built on the shoulders and histories of those that caught the vision before we did. My experiences thus far have been whobody moments with our staff; with parents who have utilized services or offered their visions of care; with my colleagues on the Clinical Advisory Committee with Crescent Cove; and with board members. But to continue to be a whobody place will take more than good intentions, it will take ongoing, deliberate attention to any and all connections and to the design of the place. I am confident we can do it.

Ted Bowman is an educator about grief and loss and about hope. He lives in Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA.

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