Joe's* mother had just passed away. Unsure of whether to leave or stay, he paced quietly back and forth between the front door and kitchen of LakeView, the Sharp HospiceCare residence where he spent her final days with her.
"While Joe's mother was in our care, he came to visit her daily," recalls Wendy Gray-Bois, a hospice nurse. "He formed strong relationships with the staff, with this house. So when his mother passed, it was difficult for him to make that transition, to walk out that door."
Gray-Bois encouraged Joe to take a seat and inscribe a "love stone" as an act of both closure and celebration of his mother. Love stones — smooth, sometimes speckled — adorn the gardens of Sharp HospiceCare's residences: LakeView, ParkView and BonitaView. Each stone is lovingly marked with personalized messages, memories, quotes, poetry and drawings for those who have passed while in hospice.
The love stone idea was born when Gray-Bois noticed the emotional toll on staff who cared for the dying. She also saw how the patients' family members — some never leaving their ailing loved one's bedside for weeks at a time, others sharing meals that they had brought from home with staff — had a hard time adjusting once their loved one had passed.
"The love stones came out of our own need to relieve the emotional stress of caring for our patients, while also serving as a non-abrupt transition and closure for family members," says Gray-Bois, who along with Solomon Hailu, Sharp HospiceCare spiritual chaplain, launched the love stone initiative in 2012.
"The nurses are very loving and careful. Even through the worst of times, they were very good about surrounding us with care," says Claudia Garcia, whose mother was a patient at Sharp HospiceCare. "They helped my mom and all of us."
Lasting elements, memories
When deciding on the creative medium for what would eventually become the love stones, Gray-Bois knew she wanted it to be something that would outlast time and the elements.
"It's always good if you can make something that is organic," she says. "So I thought, 'What about stones?' Paper will just go away."
To date, more than 2,600 love stones have been created. Family members can choose to leave the stones at the hospice residences or take them home.
Garcia and her family made nearly 30 love stones to remember their relative who passed away from cancer. Some of the stones are at LakeView, while the rest grace her mother's garden.
"The stones are a way for us to say the things to my mom that she could no longer hear," says Garcia. "It was a way of accepting what happened at that moment."
* Not his real name