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Published Friday 27 Apr 2018

(From left) registered nurse Angela Campbell, Dr Tash McKay, Dr Patricia Baines, registered nurse Heather Hansen and clinical nurse manager Mike Johnson

An initiative started by a nurse in the Hutt Valley DHB emergency room department is making a difference in the lives of families who lose loved ones, in often traumatic and unexpected circumstances.

While patients may pass away in hospital after a period of fighting illness, those who succumb in the emergency department often do so suddenly says Angela Campbell, a registered nurse who works in the emergency department and who started the initiative. 

“In those instances, for the family members of the person who passed away, they are in a state of shock. That morning their loved one left home for the day and didn’t come back.”

A family-friend who had supported Angela through the death of a loved one gifted her a prayer quilt. There are cotton threads sewn through the quilt layers which are knotted while people offer prayers, or meditations and well wishes for the person who receives the quilt.

When Angela’s mother-in-law passed away, a prayer quilt given to her family by Margaret Blair was a special keepsake that her father-in-law was able to keep.

Margaret is a member of the Pauatahanui Anglican Church, where a group of church members have been making the prayer quilts over the past 12 years. Since it began, Prayers & Squares have made over 400 quilts, with many of the quilts going all over the world.

“The quilts are not just made for those who are sick and dying, but also for those where there is any need or an occasion to celebrate and give thanks to God,” says Margaret. A quilt was gifted to a family who were leaving New Zealand, as a keepsake full of love and well wishes.

“Every lady in the group has a different talent, or gift. Some are able to do beautiful hand stitching, while others are good with sewing. The one thing they all have in common is belief in the power of prayer.We have made a range of quilts with different colours and themes, from children to adults,” Margaret says.

“When Angela approached me about having some prayer quilts in the emergency department, for when there was a need, I put it to the group and they embraced it with love and enthusiasm. We feel very privileged to be able to be a part of something like this.”

Prayers & Squares gifted some quilts to Angela, to keep in the emergency department, with a promise to make sure there is always a quilt for a family in need.

“These quilts are a way for us, as health professionals, to let the families know that we care,” says Angela.

“The medical side of things when someone is dying can be very clinical and confronting. The quilts are a symbol – the family can cover their loved one, and knot the threads while they pray, or meditate, or just think of the person. When their loved one has passed, they can take the quilt home with them if they want to. It is something tactile, physical, they can keep. We cannot stop what is happening, but we can show that we care.”

Heather Hansen, a registered nurse in the emergency department, recently gave a family a prayer quilt when their father died unexpectedly of a heart attack.

“As a nurse you are so task-driven that you have to focus on what you are doing medically to make sure you are looking after the patient. After someone passes, there is a lot you practically have to do. Covering someone’s loved one with a white blanket is just so sterile,” she says.

“Being able to acknowledge the family’s grief is so important. With this patient who passed away, we were able to give the family the prayer quilt to cover him. The family didn’t realise that they could keep the quilt and returned it when they came to collect the death certificate. When I told them they could keep it, they were really emotional. I think they appreciated that we cared and it was really nice to feel that we had, in some way, made a difficult time a little easier.”

What makes the quilts so special and meaningful, says Angela, is the quilts come from a community of love and is passed on from staff who care about their patients and their families.

“It is all about community connection. Being able to show the community that we care takes the fear of being in a hospital away and being able to offer families something tangible at such a devastating time can make an incredible difference.”