Thoughts on 'Belonging' | Hospice Poet, Phil Isherwood

This Dying Matters Awareness Week, Bolton Hospice volunteer and Poet Phil Isherwood shares his new poem 'Belonging' written for the awareness week, his thoughts on the topic of belonging and what this means for our patients here at Bolton Hospice. 


Dr Phil Isherwood‘Belonging’ is a little recognised feeling - yet one we all share in so many different ways. The feeling of belonging comes from our social sense of being part of some group – for example, family, a community (church, club, supporters’ group, voluntary group) or a profession or work setting. Having a secure, welcoming home is, generally, most important. It is a central, significant, place to belong, within the circle of life’s activities. At the end of life, belonging is even more important. Family and friends are the strongest support, and the memories and stories we can all share with the dying person reinforce all the ways in life they have belonged.

When death comes, to die at home is the choice of many, simply because it is  “where I belong’. For various reasons the choice to die at home may not be made – but hospices are very good at ‘being homely’ in the nature of their care and the time and space for family and friends.  It is so very sad that, due to the nature of the current pandemic, many have died in hospitals from Covid-19 without the full strength of belonging through home, family and friendship. Doctors and nurses have done so much to make up, as best they can, for the isolation. But we have all learnt more of how important belonging is, to the dying, and to their families.

The hospice movement has always known how important belonging is. Patients and families are cared for in the Hospice and through the Hospice at Home services. Bolton Hospice has a Creative Therapy service – now part of the Wellbeing Hub. The creative activity that takes place there can involve art and craft work, scrapbooks of memories and stories, memory boxes. The stories and memories can inspire poetry.


Phil Isherwood artwork


The poems, the scrapbooks, memory boxes, art and craft items of hospice patients are often as gifts to family and friends. They celebrate these connections in life, with family, friends, and with work, places lived and visited. The passions in life such as crown green bowling, cricket, the family Christmas, their job as a nurse or as a builder, even ‘just being a mum’ are shared. Such significant memories are all part of our ‘belonging’ that a dying person will find especially helpful. Hospice patients take poems, art, memory boxes and scrapbooks home to display and talk about. Home, their own special dwelling-place. Poems, and gifts made for cherished family and friends, celebrate the shared sense of belonging.

It is, to me as a hospice poet, a tremendous privilege to support patients at Bolton Hospice through poetry. But, in Dying Matters Week this year, it is good for all of us to talk about dying. What is “being in a good place to die”?  How is our own sense of belonging? What does that mean for our choices? Should you tell someone – so that your wishes are known when your time comes?




This is where I belong

Settled amongst the memories

With family and friendship


Stories can make good blankets

Remembering days we walked together

We have laughed. We have cried.


Journeys can stop and start

Some of the stops always need

A sensitive account


Locations change

Moving house, not moving home

Stories fitted in our boxes


Now, keep this scrapbook near

Easily in reach. There will be times

To find the very best pages


Some stories have a good polish

Brighter and brighter by every telling

Knowing how much I belonged.


Phil Isherwood

Bolton Hospice Poet


You can read more of Phil's poetry inspired by his time with Bolton Hospice patients here on his Hospice Poet twitter