Years ago, a hospice volunteer mentioned each patient and caregiver she spent time with was like a pearl in a necklace—over time, the necklace grew and grew. I decided to use that idea as a theme for the Annual All Day Volunteer Retreat I facilitated for my hospice volunteers this year. I had also come across Heather’s Soul Food Site “Descansos” which familiarized me with the term. I then thought about how this theme could apply to hospice and to our Retreat. Combining the two ideas, I planned a “Day of Remembering,” with the creation of a pearl necklace becoming the descansos made by each attendee.
Starting with a visualization to activate each participant’s memory about their loved ones, whether personal or hospice patients, we all thought of eight people we wanted to remember, and a few words about each that reminded them about what they received as a legacy from the person. The legacy might manifest as an idea, a trait, or an actual item; such as, a recipe, a love of cooking, or a well-used rolling pin.
I previously drew eight circles of varying sizes, on a piece of paper, with each circle touching the next, forming a completed chain. This would become our necklace. The largest circle in the necklace was generally reserved for a personal loved one, with the others filling in for hospice patients.
The grief of hospice workers, and other nurses, doctors, and aides, etc., is considered disenfranchised grief—not acknowledged as real grief since the health care worker only knew the patient for a relatively short time compared to if the person was a beloved parent, spouse, child, grandparent. However, one can become quite close to someone and still need to deal with their loss when it occurs. When the losses are ongoing, as with health care workers, and one is then on to the next patient, those losses aren’t acknowledged and dealt with, and so accumulate, leading to eventual burnout. So I try to allow the volunteers an avenue to know it is all right to grieve for patients, to provide an avenue in which to grieve and express that grief in a different way each year. We’ve done “Legacy Writing,” “Ethical Wills,” “Rekindling,” “Inner Child” and many others in the six years of having Volunteer Retreats.
We each wrote the name of the remembered person in one of the circles. Then we perused magazines to find pictures or words describing the person and their legacy to us, or used colored pencils or crayons to draw pictures or words. There is something so therapeutic in using scissors and colored pencils, in smelling glue and crayons that takes us back to childhood. The volunteers know by now every creation made at our Retreats is considered a work of art, and so have resolved any lingering critical voices in their heads from childhood. Even the men get involved with creating and sharing.
Snip, snip, snip go all the scissors. Sniff, inhale deeply beloved smells of childhood. Oh! Look at this! Wow! intersperse the proceedings as people move about seeking the perfect picture or accessory like ribbons or beads, small flowers or feathers, yarn or thread, crayon or colored markers. Anyone see a lilac bush in bloom? How about a man fishing? Here’s a woman baking. Who was looking for that? Looking for oneself as well as looking to help others. Sharing as part of the process of creating, usually considered a solitary activity. And sometimes it got quiet as each was busy getting it “just right.”
Finally finished, or as finished as it can be in the allotted hours. I asked each to bring in a fairly recent picture of themselves. Now those pictures were glued into the middle of the picture, and we each truly had a pearl necklace going around our necks: a descansos of our legacy from losses of loved ones.
Then the verbal sharing started. Each, in describing their necklace, gave a eulogy for the pearl-people (in their necklace), telling of the legacies they received from each, telling stories and activities, sharing the love they felt with others in a setting where they were really listened to. And what stories! Fortunately, I brought many boxes of kleenex, which were needed during the three hours of sharing. Powerful legacies from patients one was with only a short time but where a real connection was built, showing we might never realize the influence we can have on others. Three hours later, we all felt as if each of us had honored our loved ones in a eulogy sometimes more pertinent to the person than that done by the “professionals”—ministers and funeral directors. Our hearts filled with inspiration and the goodness of so many people, including the volunteers telling their stories. Truly “A Day of Remembering”, by making a pearl necklace, a descansos of our loved ones.
This was so therapeutic I went on and made a pearl necklace honoring my personal loved ones and using their pictures as part of each pearl, as well as individual collage cards honoring my memories of each person and their legacy.