When a loved one passes away in a nursing home, one of the final images family and nursing home staff members are left with is that of the lifeless body being transported in a body bag to an awaiting hearse.
It's an image that can be just as painful as the actual death.
"It's very traumatic for staff and it's traumatic for visitors," said Pastor Lilja Behr of Bethany Good Samaritan Village in Brainerd. "It's that last visual memory that is sometimes pretty tough for us."
Now, thanks to a Brainerd area quilting organization, that final exit for many elderly members in the community will be done with gentleness and respect.
The Pinetree Patchworkers on Monday donated eight handmade "Hands of Love" quilts to Bethany and Woodland Good Samaritan Villages in Brainerd, Whispering Pines Good Samaritan Village in Pine River and Woodhaven Senior Community at the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center.
Connie Murray (left), co-chair of the "Hands of Love" quilt project, presented Pat Nelson, Bethany director of nursing, and Kelly Peterson, Bethany assistant director of nursing, one of the eight quilts the Pinetree Patchworkers made that will be used to bring dignity and honor to those who die at the nursing home. Karen DeVries and Arlene Fitzpatrick, both members of the Pinetree Patchworkers, provided information to audience members about the dignity quilt at the Monday dedication ceremony at Bethany Good Samaritan Village in Brainerd. (Dispatch Photos by Steve Kohls)
These quilts, also called dignity quilts, will be draped over a deceased loved one as he or she is escorted out of the nursing home facility by funeral directors.
Kelly Peterson, Bethany assistant director of nursing, read of a similar quilting project and was interested in getting quilts for use at Bethany. Behr approached members of the Pinetree Patchworkers guild about the project and they enthusiastically supported the idea of creating the quilts as a community gift.
"It was something that touched everybody," said Leslie Speaker, a Pinetree Patchworkers member and co-chair of the "Hands of Love" project. "We've all lost somebody and we've all seen the gurneys and the ugly bags. Anything you can give a family to make the death a lot easier means a lot to everybody."
Speaker said the quilting guild includes more than 100 members. Surprisingly, about 60 members volunteered to work on the quilts. Connie Murray co-chaired the service project.
"I think it's testimony to the fact that it is a subject near and dear to our hearts," Speaker said. "When people think of a quilt they think of warmth and home. It just has a warm association with most people. It kind of softens it for the family."
Pastor Lilja Behr of Bethany Good Samaritan Village in Brainerd spoke to Pinetree Patchworkers and others who gathered at Monday's quilt dedication at Bethany.
Behr said that when someone dies at Bethany, the staff has a brief bedside memorial service for staff and family members. Now the quilts will be used during these memorial services.
"It's a last honoring gesture for folks in our community," said Behr. "The last visual memory for residents, staff and family is one that looks as if that person is honored and cared for. We've just been given such a wonderful gift. What a gift from the heart."
Historically, quilts often have been used as a way to honor and remember the dead. According to the History of Quilts at the Web site, womenfolk.com, quilts offered comfort to grieving families during the times when death was all too common. If there wasn't any wood to build a coffin, loved ones were wrapped in quilts and buried. Quilts were draped over a coffin during a funeral service. Grieving family members made special memorial quilts in honor of the deceased.
Cherrywood Fabrics, Colorz for Quilts and Country Fabrics, along with many of the volunteer quiltmakers, donated the fabrics and supplies. The average cost for just the materials to make a quilt is about $150 to $250, said Speaker. Most of the quilts the Pinetree Patchworkers made included deep, rich colors. Somber, yet elegant.
"The quality of the work that came in was just phenomenal," said Speaker. "We have such a wealth of talent in our club it is unbelievable."
Pinetree Patchworkers performs many service projects throughout the year, from creating crises quilts for crisis centers, quilts for first-time homeowners through Habitat for Humanity and quilted place mats at Christmas time for people who receive Meals on Wheels. They also make stockings for food shelf recipients at Christmas.
A "Hands of Love" quilt show and dedication was held Monday night at Bethany. Pinetree Patchworkers attended the dedication, as did representatives of the long-term care facilities who received the "Hands of Love" quilts.
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