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Providing comfort to hospice families separated during COVID-19

| Everyday Moments

felt hearts created by Whatcom Hospice volunteers to share with families

Felt hearts are being used to help ease the pain of separation and let others know their loved ones are surrounded with a loving connection.

Having a loved one in hospice care is one of life’s biggest emotional challenges. But imagine the difficulty of not being able to see that loved one — not being able to hug them, comfort them or hold their hand.

That’s the exact situation many people across the country are facing in the wake of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. With most hospice and skilled nursing facilities not allowing visitors, families are separated at a time when they want nothing more than to be together.

“During our team meetings, our staff members were sharing their feelings of helplessness and pain as patients were separated from family members during the dying process,” says Michelle Walsh, bereavement coordinator for Whatcom Hospice. “So, we tried to think of a way that we could do something — anything — to help ease the pain and let family members, patients and caregivers know they are surrounded with a loving connection from our team.”

Delivering love and support

Recognizing the heart-wrenching situation families were facing, Whatcom Hospice Bereavement Services teamed up with Whatcom Volunteer Services, led by Amie Carr, volunteer coordinator. Jumping into action, volunteers began creating handmade cards and felt hearts for patients and their family members.

The felt hearts were inspired by volunteers from the Whatcom Hospice Memory Keepsake Workshop, which helps bereaved family members make keepsake items remembering their deceased loved one. The workshop volunteers had sewn similar felt hearts for hospice caregivers a few years ago for Valentine’s Day.

“Having a soft touchstone object can be comforting, especially at this time of limited physical touch and hugs,” Michelle says. “Holding a soft object can bring a moment of ease.”

Within days of the initial request, two Workshop volunteers sewed roughly 100 hearts. Meanwhile, another group of volunteers (including several community members) created a stack of handwritten cards.

Once a hospice team member identified a patient or family in need, Amie gathered delivery volunteers to (safely) hand-deliver the hearts and cards. Family members residing out of state received the cards, letters and hearts through the mail.

“We received a call from one recipient who was tearful, saying she was so alone (she lived alone) and the heart and card were exactly what she needed that day,” Michelle says. “The call also allowed us to connect, which meant that she was able to receive more support over the phone.”

Michelle says another a lovely testimonial recently came from someone unable to visit her parent in a facility. When the heart was delivered, the daughter said the delivery made her feel closer to her loved one. Her note of thanks emphasized her feeling that “everyone is connected."

Comforting staff in need

While the last few months have been especially difficult on hospice patients and their family members, staff members and caregivers working in local nursing homes are also struggling to cope with an increase in deaths from COVID-19.

Recognizing that nursing home staff were feeling overwhelmed, Whatcom Hospice Bereavement Services, Volunteer Services, chaplaincy and certified nursing assistants put together kits to support staff with the end-of-life process.

The care packages featured battery-operated candles, prayer cards, stuffed animals, lavender bath kits and a book about the end-of-life process. They also included “The Five Rs,” a Whatcom Hospice self-care mantra that encourages caregivers to Take Five moments to remember, rejoice, reflect, restore and refresh.

“One nursing home social worker called us the same day the kit was delivered to thank us for the support and resources,” Michelle says. “Some of these staff members are not used to seeing patients die, and these kits offer active ways of providing support through that difficult process.”

‘A team effort’

Whether its hand-delivering felt hearts to patients or supporting PeaceHealth caregivers, Michelle and Amie agree that these projects required a team effort — nurses, doctors, social workers chaplains, volunteers and administrative staff.

“Hospice is such a beautiful delivery of care, and there are so many people supporting patients and their families,” Amie says. “It’s not just one or two people who are making a difference — it is a whole team.” 

Are you looking for a way to support the COVID-19 response in your community? Consider donating to the COVID-19 Heroes Fund to help those who are caring for the most vulnerable patients.