Legacy work is a practice that helps patients and their families feel connected to one another, even when they are physically apart. This practice also brings comfort to those dealing with chronic illness, long hospitalizations, or end-of-life.
There are many different ways and materials that can be used to create legacy work. At MUSC Health, one of our tools for this practice is memory stones. These keepsakes are glass wafers with different pictures affixed to the glass. The back side of the memory stone is blank so that thumb or finger prints can be made on them. These memory stones can be made by or for patients. Sometimes families will exchange their fingerprints, so that the patient can hold onto their family’s prints. Family members can take the patient’s prints on memory stones so that they can hold something of theirs when apart. Family members sometimes use these fingerprinted stones to pray for their loved one or send them positive thoughts.
Other forms of legacy work include: painted handprints on decorative papers or canvases, photos of families holding hands, painted finger prints on stuffed animals, blankets or other fabrics.
Journaling is another form of legacy work which provides a way for patients to tell their stories and share their thoughts with others. Journaling can be written down or even recorded using audio or video technology. Patients and their families may also color or draw pictures for or with each other. Cards or gatherings (even in the hospital setting) are used to honor special occasions. Legacy work has unlimited possibilities to provide comfort, kinship, and make lasting memories.
Ellie Coyne (October 20, 1958 – June 22, 2016) joined the Palliative Care team in the fall of 2015 and from her first day, she spread her light across our campus. Using nearly 10 years of experience pioneering a palliative care volunteer program at Virginia Commonwealth University, she came to MUSC Health and hit the ground running. She brought expertise in developing and sustaining a specialty volunteer program, providing bereavement support in pediatric and adult populations, community outreach and legislative initiatives for palliative care. A powerhouse of knowledge and innovation, Ellie was also a deeply kind and generous soul. The impact she made on MUSC Health staff, patients, and families was profound and lasting.
In the short time that Ellie was a member of the MUSC Health family, she embodied the mission of the Palliative Care Department – to provide comfort, support, and improve quality of life. A visit from Ellie was a bright spot in a patient’s or family’s day. She put together several events for patients and their families, ensuring that staff had what they needed to participate along with their patients – a wedding, anniversaries, patient birthdays, even the birthday of a patient’s child. Anyone who met Ellie remembered her smile, easy manner, and warm heart.
While Legacy Work is not something new, Ellie gave it life at MUSC Health. She provided memory stones (her creation) and other supplies to help patients and their families feel connected in times of distress and loss. Boxes filled with Legacy Work supplies, created in Ellie’s honor are present on all inpatient units so that the practice of Legacy Work continues to help our patients and families. These kits are called “Ellie’s Way”.