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Donated Quilts Brighten Palliative Care Office Walls

Understanding better than most of us that no one lives forever, the Palliative Care team at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) always looks for ways to make patients' remaining time – and their families' time with them – worth living.

Take the new office on Level 4 near the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where palliative care's Decision Support Team confers with patients and families about what Chaplain Linda Piotrowski calls "some pretty delicate things," and at what Palliative Practice Manager Sandra Knowlton-Soho, RN, calls those "times in a person's life where they may have to make difficult decisions."

While team members appreciated the recent opening of the space, they noticed early on what was missing: Windows, art, or any other signs of life beyond the bare walls of the office or the institutional walls of the hospital.

"Even after we furnished it, it was very stark," Soho remembered recently. "We wanted to make it look as little like a doctor's office as possible."

Photo of Palliative Care staff with quiltsEnter three women whom Soho recruited from the Lebanon, NH-based Northern Lights Quilters' Guild: Linda Buzzell and Joyce Lundrigan of Plainfield, NH, and Betsy Allen of Acworth, NH. After spending much of the summer of 2012 crafting quilts in in honor of special people in their lives, they hung their creations on the walls of the Decision Support Team room on Nov. 13.  

"We were pleased to be asked," Allen said.

Pleased in no small part because the request opened a door for them to immortalize people for whom they cared deeply, and to soothe people facing the same kinds of end-of-life issues.

Buzzell dedicated her 28x28-inch quilt, Rumors of Spring, to Madeline Lefebvre, an aunt with whom she'd "sewed a lot together when I was growing up."

Allen, meanwhile, created a pair of 20-by-20 quilts she called Peaceful Garden – one in memory of friend Eleanor Swiderski of Windsor, VT, the other in honor of her still-vital mother, Elda Howarth.

 And with her 28x28-inch quilt Morning's Promise, Lundrigan stirred memories of best friend Teresa Bagley, who had worked at DHMC for surgeon Thomas Colacchio, MD, and for whom Palliative Care director Ira Byock, MD, recalled caring during her final days in 2004.

"You bless us with these," Byock told the quilters before Piotrowski formally blessed their creations.

"Even staff, when they come in here, sometimes come in here with heavy hearts," Piotrowski said. "[The display of quilts] will give them a chance to sit for a second and center themselves."

The safe landing of the quilts re-centered their creators, too.

"They're great," Buzzell declared. "The colors look wonderful. We wanted the blues and the greens to be the common theme."

"We researched that," Lundrigan added.

"We found a website," Allen concluded. "It said those colors were soothing and peaceful."

Via e-mail, the quilters compared notes on colors – and other creative issues – even while spending much of the summer far apart: Buzzell in northern New Hampshire, Lundrigan in Utah, Allen in Acworth.

"I suppose how much time we put into it is something we should keep track of," Buzzell said, "but that would take the fun out of it."

The fun, and the feeling.

"Perhaps more than most people, quilters know that life is all of a piece," Piotrowski said during the blessing. "They take fragments of fabric knowing that darkness gives shape to light. Quilters transform pieces into a whole that helps people to see possibilities of transformation even in the painful times of life."

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