Small velvet hearts made with love and laced with meaning
Over the past five years, Joan Neave has hand crafted nearly 3000 velvet hearts in order to provide comfort to palliative patients and their families.
The Calvary Health Care Bethlehem (CHCB) volunteer presents a new batch of the little hearts to a pastoral carer every month, listening with interest to stories about what lives they have touched since the carer’s last visit.
The hearts are designed to fit into the palm of a hand or a child’s pocket and come in a huge range of colours. Bereaved family members are invited to choose a colour that resonates with them and keep the heart as a small but potent symbol of the importance of their loved family member. Patients with a life limiting illness find meaning in the hearts too, as they are used in reflective practice conducted by CHCB pastoral care. Doctors often carry them on their rounds.
Children are encouraged to keep the heart in their pocket, so that it is always close. One little boy, whose grandfather was dying at Bethlehem, painted a picture of each of his family members with the coloured heart they had chosen. The boy placed himself between his grandfather and grandmother in the picture but had trouble squeezing his aunties in. When it was suggested that he use another sheet of paper the boy refused and said, “We all have to be together”.
The hearts have inspired many other moving and symbolic gestures. One mother gifted a heart to her son while reconciling their relationship, a grandmother found solace in making tiny bags to hold a heart for each of her three granddaughters, and one terminally ill father left a heart and a message for his unborn child.
The hearts have had an impact overseas too. A family from mainland China requested 12 hearts to be sent for family members after a loved one died at CHCB. Thanks to Joan, who sews the hearts from her Melbourne lounge room, a common symbol provided comfort to a grieving family half a world away.
Although she is surrounded by the fabric hearts all year round, Joan has never considered them to be hers.
“These hearts already belong to the family they are destined for,” she says.
“I am just their maker”.
*Sam Kelly is the media and communications manager at Calvary Health Care Bethlehem.
- Frail elderly put new pressure on prisons to provide palliative care
- One third of elderly patients receive futile treatment before they die
- Symbolic works created with ink-filled syringe capture life and offer therapy
- The most intimate thing I’ve done in my life: Kylie’s story
- Vicarious trauma: a young nurse shares her experience