Thursday, May 28, 2015

Case Study - Too Sick To Attend Her Funeral

Creating “legacies” can be as unique as the individual who has left us. 

I received a referral for a patient who was depressed because he could not attend his great-grandmother's funeral. He was stuck in the hospital for health reasons for almost 2 months. His grief was manifesting as anger and frustration and he was taking it out on, mostly, himself.

At our initial meeting, he shared his love for his "grandma" as he called her and his frustration at the crumpled up funeral program his mother brought back. He wanted desperately to get a better picture of her and was searching through Facebook photos of friends and family who attended the funeral. 

I suggested borrowing the funeral program to scan (having a scanner in my office) and bringing him back a nice glossy print. This soon led to him emailing several pictures of her and people from the funeral service for me to print out for creating a scrapbook of an important moment he had missed. 

It became his mission during his time at the hospital. It also was a craft project he shared with his mother, who was caring for him. His disposition, and hers, brightened and he had something to look forward to each day which helped him get back to the process of healing physically and spiritually by releasing some of his anger and frustration.

Years later, when he looks back on his time spent in a hospital for more than 50 days, he can remember creating a momento of his grandmother's passing.

Case Study - 32 Tattoos

Creating “legacies” can be as unique as the individual who is leaving or has left us. Earlier in 2014, I visited with a patient who was dying of renal medullary carcinoma, a rare cancer associated with the sickle cell trait. After being told of his diagnosis, he knew he would die within 3 months and was planning to transition to palliative care. The then-34-year-old became very depressed and felt his life was being cut short, at a time when he was just starting to live. He was referred to me and it was suggested that I do a hand print or thumbprint craft with him to leave for his two young children. Because he was a young African-American man, I held off on the activity. Sometimes, in our culture, fingerprinting may be perceived or related to a negative experience. And not knowing his history, I wanted to speak with him first.

At our initial meeting, he revealed his fascination with tattoos and expressed an interest in getting a new tattoo. He showed me 32 tattoos he already had and asked if I could help design a new one for him. I had learned that he was refusing to see his children, so I suggested that he make a scrapbook of photos of his tattoos for his children. Whether he was going to be cremated or buried, the tattoos are a part of him that they wouldn’t be able to keep. He agreed and allowed me to photograph each one. 

During this process, he enthusiastically told me about each tattoo, including tattoos of his children’s names and a tattoo of a representation of Jesus Christ, of whom we talked about things Jesus had done before his early death. I got the prints and scrapbook supplies to him the next day, which happened to be his 35th birthday. Although his children were not present, several other family members were able to participate in helping him put the book together and celebrate his birthday. With his direction, the book was completed. He had placed the tattoo photos in chronological order, wrote short messages about the tattoos and included quotes and scriptures for his children to read. He died two days later.

This is an example of personalizing the memory-making activity. Going that extra step will leave something even more meaningful for a family. Years later, this book will tell his story about things in life that were important to him through one of his favorite pastimes. His family also will have those last shared memories of creating together that they can reflect on during their grieving process.

Treasure Box of Photo Cards by Unicia Buster

For Valentine's Day, 2015, I wanted to make something for my son that was a bit more memorable than candy (which he would devour in seconds). I am a huge fan of photos and thought of photo collages, a photo album or a photo book as a gift. I've done things like this before but wanted it to be more special.

Then I thought, there is something special about things that come in small packages: easy to carry with you, doesn't take up much storage space and easy to share. My son loves his Pokemon cards and playing cards. A set of photo cards would be perfect.

I realized that it didn't need to be something he treasured now, because, eventually, he would outgrow his toys, games and books. However, photos are forever. So, I picked specific photos of people he treasure, made them all the same size in Adobe Photoshop and printed them to put into a hand painted and decorated small treasure box.

Started with a store bought heart box. (AC Moore)
I painted it with metallic gold paint at the bottom and black paint at the top. I cut out heart shapes from scrapbook paper and stroked on red glitter glue with a brush over the top, including the hearts, and inside the hearts on the side of the box.

I printed a bunch of pictures about 2 inches squared of my son and family and friends of his sharing special moments like the day he was baptized, drinking homemade smoothies, attending a harvest festival, doing crafts, hanging out at Water Country USA, at his school when he won a bicycle and even a visit to the doctors when he wasn't feeling well.
Hand wrote two notes in 2 inch squares and cut them out.

I chose one picture to glue in the inside top and stacked the remaining photos in the box along with the handwritten notes. There's plenty of space for future photos.

They fit perfectly inside the closed box.

I added a topper and left it on the kitchen table for him to find.

For money saving alternatives, any box can be used (jewelry boxes, shoe boxes, gift boxes, Dollar Store boxes, etc.). It doesn't have to be a wooden box. To make it special to your recipient, glue fabric or paper onto the box to cover it using your favorite print or/and color. Better yet, use fabric from something you no longer wear like an old pair of jeans.

Personalizing it is the key to memory making. My son will treasure this long after I'm gone. He will remember how much I love him and how much I love photos. So think of ways to create memorable things that combine the things you love most.