Leaving a piece of your heart behind

Ashley Brown shares how members of St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church’s dementia group minister through art.

A chaplain taught me a clever trick to help family members leave their loved one’s bedsides to take care of necessary business and self-care. The ministers at Ascension Seton Hospital System in Austin, Texas, use ceramic glazed hearts that fit in the palm of your hand as a method of “leaving a piece of your heart behind.”

The hearts can be prayed over, placed (with nurse approval) somewhere in the room, or secured in the palm of a hand, if appropriate. This method helps to alleviate caregiver guilt and can remind patients that they are not alone. Additionally, the heart can become a sacred memento for those left on earth when their loved ones pass away.

We decided to craft these for our church members at St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church. Our goal was to expand the blessing by including church members in the process. Miriam Hollar, a certified ruling elder who serves as our parish associate for pastoral care, recruited a ceramic artist from the congregation to donate two pounds of clay and lend the use of her professional tools.

Photo contributed.

For the creation of the hearts, we turned to the participants in our Aden program which works with members of our community who have dementia. Over two days, our Aden program participants transformed from care receivers to caregivers. It was incredible to watch them take on the creative role of an artisan and to see the beauty that they were creating. One woman kept turning the clay hearts over in her hands murmuring, “So beautiful, so beautiful.”

Upon the completion and firing of the clay by the ceramic artist and church member, the Aden program participants spent an hour painting and decorating 30 or so clay hearts which we later glazed over with a few coats of clear gloss paint for shine and texture.

Once the hearts were complete, each Aden program member received one to give to someone they loved. The rest were placed in plastic bags alongside a copy of Psalm 23 and a short note of love and support. These hearts will be distributed by members of our pastoral team to hospitals, bedsides and those who are experiencing spiritual distress.

I found it fulfilling to witness the healing energy that came with this creative process, and it served as a wake-up call to the importance of engaging all those around us in the purpose of ministry. We are all called to serve. Even those with fading memories can offer their siblings in Christ comfort in their darkest days.

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