Close-knit group makes prayer shawls for patients | PostIndependent.com
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Close-knit group makes prayer shawls for patients

Post Independent/Kelley CoxValley View Hospital's chaplain, Patty Harris, chats as she knits last Tuesday.
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On a blustery, frigid night in January, a group of women gathered around the warm inviting fireplace in the lobby of Valley View Hospital with their knitting. Spilling over their laps from their needles and crochet hooks were soft shawls in myriad colors. While the talk rose and fell, always their minds were turned on their work and to a mantra they wove into the yarn, “Faith, hope, love.”In the fast-paced technical world of Valley View Hospital, there is a movement that harks back to a slower, more homespun time. For more than a year, this group of women, many of them hospital staff, have been getting together every week in a knitting circle. They gather not just for the friendship and for the work of their hands, but for a mission. The group, Threads of Love, makes prayer shawls for patients, friends and family. The work has tied the members closely together and the web they’ve spun has reached out to embrace far more than just the sick in body and at heart.Prayers and caring thoughts are woven into the shawls so those who receive them are embraced by the warmth of the shawl and the love threaded into them.Valley View chaplain Patty Harris and nurse Carol Buick started the group in August 2004. For Harris, an experience in a patient’s room gave her the idea.She’d witnessed a touching moment in a cancer patient’s room. Three of the woman’s friends had given her a shawl they’d knitted together. As they wrapped the shawl about her shoulders they spoke of the prayers, hope and love they had knitted into every stitch.”I was overwhelmed with this very tangible expression of grace and love,” Harris said, “and I felt that the idea was one which I hoped might be shared. As caretakers, we can’t always cure, but we can always care.”Now a basket of yarn and a shawl-in-progress sit in the hospital’s oncology center where women waiting for chemotherapy can knit their caring into the piece.Once the shawls are completed they are blessed by Harris and presented to a patient. Attached to the shawl is a prayer that she reads which expresses the intent of the maker.”May this mantle be a safe haven, a sacred place of security and well-being. … May the one who receives this shawl be cradled in hope, kept in joy, graced with peace, and wrapped in love.”

Stories of the solace and comfort of the shawls are collected in the group’s scrapbook. And everyone in the group has a story to tell about how a shawl touched her life, and inspired her to reach out with a shawl of her own making.Kay Bell, of Redstone, learned of prayer shawls when she visited an elderly friend in the hospital. Evalyn had been given a shawl, and Kay was so taken with the idea she wanted to make them herself.”I’m just so touched by what they do,” she said. “Don’t you always have someone in your life who needs prayers wrapped around them?” she asked.Her first shawl went to a friend from Carbondale who had a brain tumor. “It meant so much to her,” she said.In all, the group has knitted or crocheted more than 200 shawls.Jim’s storyWhile the shawl makers and those who receive them come from a variety of faiths, or none at all, their message is clear. They are powerful agents of spiritual healing.Harris related the story of Jim, a hospital patient who had suffered a stroke and was very debilitated by chronic illness. The stroke did not affect his speech or judgment, but he was unable to feed himself or walk or take care of his basic needs.Despite his disability, he was a joy to be around.”He was a delightful patient and endeared himself to the nurses,” Harris said.

Jim had a great sense of humor that did not fail him after the stroke. But he would not speak about his condition or his fears for the future.”We would see him walking down our hall with the rehab staff, struggling with his walker and quite obviously losing weight and deteriorating, but always with a smile and a joke when we stopped to say hello,” she said.When the nurses heard he was leaving the hospital, they knew he was going home to die and they wanted to give him something to remember them by.”We wanted to wrap him in a shawl as a symbol of our love and admiration for him,” Harris said.Although the nurses tried to downplay the presentation, a big group gathered around his wheelchair.Harris read the prayer card attached to the shawl. Jim and the nurses were all in tears.Some time later they learned Jim had died. His wife told them that after Jim received the shawl he began to talk about dying. “They shared something they never would have without the prayer shawl,” Harris said.After his death she kept the shawl, and whenever she felt sad or lonely, she told the nurses, she wrapped herself in Jim’s shawl and felt his loving presence.The prayer shawl ministryThe prayer shawl ministry began in 1998 with Janet Bristow and Vicky Galo. Graduates of the Women’s Leadership Institute at the Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, the two women have said they felt called to knit shawls for new mothers and women with breast cancer. Other members of the leadership class began knitting and the idea spread around the country.



More than an act of charity, the act of knitting itself is a comfort to the one who knits. “There’s a lot of mystery, a lot of synchronicity” in knitting a shawl, said Buick.Although there is no set pattern for the shawl, the Threads of Love group uses a knitting pattern of knit three, purl three, chosen not just for the lovely result, but for its spiritual symbolism.”The idea (of knitting in a group) is meditation,” Buick said. Symbolic groups of three are found in many of the world’s great religions – the Christian Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the Hindu triumvirate of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the creator, preserver and destroyer of the universe.As the women knit, they send into the work their blessings for the wearer. The women use a mantra to both center their thoughts on the knitting and to be mindful of their intent. They repeat the words “faith, hope, love” both as pattern counters and a blessing.But the message behind the shawls isn’t specific to a particular religion. The love and compassion inherent in the shawls are at the root of their power.For Buick, making and giving the shawls adds an extra dimension to her professional care.”As a nurse, an older nurse, I’m frustrated that we always have to hurt the patients,” she said. These days nursing is not as intimate as it once was, and has now been replaced with technology. Knitting and giving prayer shawls “has brought back for me the idea of touch and embracing the patient,” she said.

Jan and KathleenJust a few weeks ago when Jan Ward was in the hospital, she had her own experience with the synchronicity of prayer shawls.”I was in for emergency gall bladder surgery,” she said. Ward, who is a member of Threads of Love, was on oxygen and in pain. Carol Buick was her nurse, and she and Harris arranged for Ward to receive a prayer shawl.After receiving “this amazing gift,” Ward wanted to give one in return. She found just the right person in Kathleen Hughes, whom she met in the hospital.Hughes, a scheduler for the special procedures unit at Valley View, and Ward had some key issues in common. Like Ward, Hughes has lost vision in one eye from chronic illness and needs supplemental oxygen to breathe. Her husband, Ron, taught three of Ward’s children in school in Glenwood Springs.”I asked her if I could give (a shawl) to her, and I told her how much she means to me, how she inspires me every day,” Ward said.Hughes, who has had lupus for more than 20 years, doesn’t like to call her disease a disability.”It’s a condition of living,” she said, something she’s had to learn to live with.Hughes, who has worked at Valley View for 11 years, said the hospital administration has gone out of its way to accommodate her in her job.When she and Jan met, “we just kind of clicked,” Hughes said.



It was good to talk to someone else with a long-term illness. “There are not a lot of people who know how you feel,” she said. “It’s just nice to find someone that’s special to you.”Ward and Patty Harris presented Hughes with her shawl last week, a lovely heathery blue with long soft fringe. “It was a complete surprise,” Hughes said. “It was just so special” when they wrapped the shawl around her shoulders and read the prayer card.”I’d like to consider myself a giving person, but it’s hard to get (back) sometimes,” she said. “It renewed my spirit. It got me all jazzed up to give again.”Joining Threads of LoveAnyone can join the group, even if they don’t know how to knit or crochet. Needles, yarn and instructions are provided. The group meets in the upper lobby of the hospital from 4-7 p.m. on Tuesdays. For more information, call Carol Buick or Chaplain Patty Harris at Valley View Hospital, 945-6535.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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