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Hospice director creates memories for patient's family

posted on Thursday, February 22, 2018

Julie Swett and her homemade gifts

As a medical professional, Julie Swett, a registered nurse who serves as WesleyLife's Director of Home Health and Hospice, understands the need for boundaries between caregiver and patient. As a caregiver, it's easy to become attached to a patient, then have to deal with one's own grief when that patient passes away.

But medical professionals are also human, and sometimes, connections form. That was the case recently between Julie and patient Deborah Slayton, who died in January in the care of WesleyLife Hospice after having been diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer.

"All our patients are special, but Deborah tugged at my heartstrings," Julie said. "She had so little, and she appreciated everything we did for her, no matter how small. Her sense of gratitude was contagious, and when she died, it was very sad for me."

It didn't take long, though, for Julie to find a way to channel her grief. In the course of her care for Deborah, Julie had gotten to know Deborah's daughter and grandsons. When Deborah passed away, little was left for the family in the way of material goods -- but Julie came up with an idea for maximizing what few possessions remained. 

"There was some of Deborah's clothing, which the daughter had taken; I asked her if she would mind giving me some of it so I could create a memory of her mom," Julie said. "She graciously passed it along, including the apron that Deborah had worn to work at Menard's. I looked it all over and got to work."

An accomplished crafter who frequently makes gifts for friends, family members, and co-workers, Julie blocked out some time at her sewing machine. The end result: the creation of a blanket, pillows, bags, and a scarf from the meager possessions of a woman who had assumed she had nothing of value to give. 

"I liked the fact that in addition to being made from items Deborah had touched and worn, they had been made into items like a blanket that bring warmth and comfort," Julie said. "I was hoping that when her daughter and grandsons used them, they would be able to feel Deborah's warmth and love."

The gifts were a labor of love from another perspective as well. "I lost my mother also, and I wish that I had some memento to help me remember her," she said. 

Julie presented the family with the items in mid-February, also giving the pillow created from the Menard's apron to one of Deborah's work friends. She said she felt a sense of satisfaction, as though she truly was giving a gift from Deborah.

"One thing I've always felt has differentiated WesleyLife Hospice from other hospice providers is that we place so much value in truly getting to know residents and families," Julie said. "We care for residents in their homes, which helps us gain familiarity quickly and form relationships. But I think it's more about an organizational desire to help every chapter in a person's life be as relevant as possible."

WesleyLife Hospice serves individuals in 15 counties throughout Iowa. To talk about hospice care for someone you love, call us at (515) 978-2777.  

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