Creatively remembering loved ones

  • 24 April 2024

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Plaster of Paris hand cast in garden with lavendar behind

(Photo courtesy of michaelhallphotography.co.uk)

Patients, at the Hospice and the Alan Hudson Day Treatment Centre in Wisbech are encouraged to talk about their lives and explore ways in which they want to leave something, which celebrates life moments, and for family members and loved ones to keep.

Theresa McGrath, Life Celebration and Creative Activities Coordinator in Wisbech, enables people to use their creativity to create memory keepsakes.

One popular way of leaving a memory is hand casting. Theresa describes it as ‘freezing a moment in time’:

“It is a permanent reminder of connection and love between family members. It is a beautiful and tactile piece of art that can be looked at and touched for many years. I often take photos of the session, using the families’ own mobile phones, with consent. It is often humorous – even in the saddest of times.”

Theresa continues:

“When casting – however it is done, or how many people are involved – it is important that the one whom the casting is really about, is the star of the show. It is very important to make sure they are completely comfortable, both physically and emotionally. I talk about castings to families beforehand, and the most important thing about this discussion is that, they know it is not offered just because they are dying, but for preserving memories for the future.”

Theresa says that she has also created castings with her own children, to preserve precious moments in time. She remembers fondly a time when she made one with her sons:

“My three boys and I spelt the word ‘LOVE’ with each of our hands. My husband came in and complained that we had not thought of him and, thinking quickly, I suggested that he could be the ‘D’ and we could make ‘LOVED’!”

Making a hand casting is not a quick process. Even though making the mould, by keeping hands in the liquid mould mixture, only takes a few minutes, the final casting – made of plaster of Paris, takes a long time to dry. Theresa continues:

“I try and get the casting to the patient, even before it is finished and completely dry, if time is short, so that they can see and hold it. If possible we take a photo of them holding the cast. Hand castings take many weeks to dry completely so often aren’t finished until after the person has died.”

Castings can also be taken with the patient holding a solid item – something special to them. Theresa shares a touching example:

“I once cast a seven-year-old holding a Lego base plate in his two hands. He was in palliative care and died three months after the casting was made. His siblings still to this day, three years later, build Lego on the cast each week.”

The process of hand casting is always different depending on the person and their situation. Theresa describes one time that she had to think creatively:

“One of our families brother died whilst we were in the process of talking about doing a casting and they were devastated at this missed opportunity. With some planning and a lot of effort, I made this casting happen for them. Their brother was already resting in the coffin, which made things more difficult, but we wanted to make this happen for them: They ended up with a stunning wreath cast and they were beyond delighted with this.”

Casting is a messy process, but it is timeless and captures a moment in time beautifully. The end result can give comfort to the family for many years to come. The materials can be expensive, so Theresa and the team at Alan Hudson Day Treatment Centre were very grateful for a donation from the networking group, BNI Marshall. With their contribution, the Centre was able to purchase some new hand casting kits for families.


If you would like to donate to Arthur Rank Hospice Charity please visit the website arhc.org.uk/donate/ or would like to find out more about the Living Well service at the Hospice please visit arhc.org.uk/living-well or the Alan Hudson Day Treatment Centre please visit: arhc.org.uk/alan-hudson


One family shares their hand casting story here. 

The Charity shares more about hand casting with volunteers here.