Knitting for Love

By Amy Goldberg, RN, Neighborhood PACE

Five years ago, my friend Gayle Gordon, the family liaison volunteer on the Mass General Hospital Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit, asked me if I knew of anyone who knitted blankets. At that time, the intensive care unit (ICU) was starting a program that provided handmade blankets to help family and friends dealing with difficult end-of-life care. The ICU nurses would place a comfort blanket on the patient, and then present the blanket to the family to take home after the patient had passed away. Blankets were chosen because they represent warmth and caring and because grieving family members could wrap themselves in something that would always have special meaning.

I knew that we had two knitting groups already up and running at Neighborhood PACE. One was at the Lewis Mall PACE Center and the other at the Winthrop PACE Center. I asked the knitting groups if they were interested in knitting “comfort blankets” for patients at Mass. General (MGH) and they were thrilled to help out. Volunteering in this way is rewarding to our Neighborhood PACE members. I know this because they tell me they feel wonderful “paying it forward.” Thus began the partnership between Neighborhood PACE and the MGH Neuroscience ICU.

Five years later, we have donated more than 900 beautiful comfort blankets to this unit. Not one blanket is the same as another. During the creative process, our knitters try to imagine colors and themes that will brighten the day and bring smiles. We’ve had blankets that were red, white, and blue for veterans and others that were simply an array of vibrant colors. The nurses always try to match each blanket to the patient’s personality or love of various colors.

While our knitters have in previous years been thanked at special events, this amazing group has grown and MGH staff, including nurses, doctors, social workers, and the chaplain, wanted to again thank the knitters. They did so at a recent luncheon, where we heard many stories that touched our hearts.

The first story was about a family dealing with the imminent death of a loved one. They gently placed the comfort blanket over her while each family placed their hands on top of the blanket and began to pray. Another family took home their blanket and framed it. As they look at the framed piece, it brings back positive memories of spending time together.

The final story we heard was about a family that cherished their blanket after their loved one passed away. They gave the blanket to a newborn in the family as the baby’s first gift. There is something in the eyes of a newborn child that makes everything feel right. The family story, and the blanket, will be treasured by future generations.

At the luncheon, the chaplain blessed the knitters’ hands and thanked them as we all linked hands together. Each PACE participant went home with a framed picture of the MGH staff holding a banner that reads: “Thank you for providing the gift of comfort to our patients and families.” Pictures, tears, and hugs completed our day.

Do you know someone whose health care needs are changing? For nearly three decades, Neighborhood PACE has enabled adults 55+ to stay healthy, active, and independent in the place they call home. Our participants often tell us they have never been as active or happy! A program of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, Neighborhood PACE serves adults living in East Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop, Revere, Everett, Malden, Melrose, Medford, Stoneham, and Boston’s North End. As part of the national Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) network, we provide the comprehensive care and support that you need as an individual with specific needs and preferences. Our program is the ideal solution for those who want an alternative to nursing home care for the right combination of medical, social, recreation, rehabilitation, home care, and other services. We even provide medications without co-pay and transportation to each PACE Center and medical appointments. Visit neighborhoodpace.org for details!

Knitters from the Lewis Mall PACE Center: Gloria Herpin, Josephine Alegata, Alma Mendoza, Anna Sophia Luna Perez, Irma Lopez, Bienvenida Vazquez, Rose Dello Russo (volunteer and knitter). Knitters from the Winthrop PACE Center: Donna Carbone, Janet Brown, Marcine Ford, Marie Bolduc, Marilyn Ford (volunteer and knitter).

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