A remembrance of a feathery touch
A luminosity, a clarity of light
A gleam, a ray, a shard of impossible radiance
A presence blessed
A suffusion of joy beyond transcendence
Peace unto your very soul
Phyllis T. Highbridge
February 13, 2011
My mother died unexpectedly from postoperative complications. She spent several days in the ICU and died fourteen hours after being moved to another floor. The events during that hospitalization were tragic. After my mother passed away, we were handed her belongings in two large, clear plastic bags. I will never forget holding on to what was left of my mother as I took the elevator down four floors, walked through the lobby, onto the skywalk, and into the parking garage. I saw her purple winter coat and all that was hers through the clear plastic, as did every stranger I met on the long walk to the car. I remember feeling like the whole world could see her belongings. It was just so wrong.
None of the doctors or nurses knew much about my mother’s life or that she was an artist. While all the healthcare providers were incredibly compassionate with her care, leaving the hospital without her was unbearable. Even though I was carrying an oversized bag, I had never felt emptier.
Three weeks after my mother’s death, I read about two brilliant programs in Ireland and Australia. The Irish Hospice Foundation Friendly Hospitals Program in Ireland pioneered the concept of handover bags. This innovative approach replaced plastic belongings bags with specially designed bags for handing over deceased patients’ belongings. Incorporating the use of the handover bag to bereaved families is a dignified and sensitive way of returning personal belongings. Inspired by the concept of handover bags, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service (SCHHS) in Queensland, Australia, replicated this concept and added other resources for the families they serve. SCHHS’s initiative garnered interest from hospitals and facilities across Australia and reached other countries.
Motivated by the programs adopted in Ireland and Australia, and determined to improve end-of-life care in the US, I created Transitional Bridges Compassion Kits. Transitional Belongings Bags and complementary tools feature my mother’s artwork. Our Compassion Kits extend comfort to grieving families and convey respect when returning a loved one’s possessions.