Twice each year, Sharp Memorial Hospital chaplain Mica Togami takes down from her office shelf a large wreath made from thin, colorful ribbons. The ribbons bear names, dates and messages — all written by the loved ones of patients who died while in the hospital.
New ribbons are added to the wreath, which is displayed at a special remembrance service at the hospital to honor patients and help support families through the grieving process.
“We feel honored to be able to do this,” Togami says. “Just seeing the courage and resilience of our families to express their love and carry on their loved one’s legacy — it’s just so beautiful.”
Services like this are held across Sharp HealthCare each year, in both English and Spanish. Families listen to readings and music, and then are invited to share stories and light candles in honor of their loved ones. Attendees express gratitude for the opportunity to share their grief with others who understand what it’s like.
During a recent service at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, a father arrived with a picture of his son and bravely recounted how he saved lives through the donation of his organs. At Sharp Memorial Hospital’s ceremony, a woman thanked caregivers for the opportunity to honor her mother at the place she saw her last. Two attendees at Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s event recognized each other from work, but neither knew the other experienced a loss.
“We recognize that gatherings and rituals can mark phases of healing in the grief process for survivors,” says Lois Hare, chaplain at Sharp Chula Vista. “Our communal remembering provides such an occasion for those who attend.”
That community support is especially meaningful for families who experience the loss of an infant. At the memorial service held each year at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, grieving parents take comfort in being with others who have experienced such a devastating loss, says Rose Bloomberg-Rissman, a licensed clinical social worker at the hospital.
“Families feel comfortable bringing photos and mementos of their baby,” she says. “This is a place they can show them, a place where people understand.”
Gabriela Zuniga, who recently attended a service at Sharp Chula Vista to honor her mother, says her family could not have found a better way to celebrate her life.
“The work the Sharp team does in reaching out to patients and families is vital and greatly appreciated,” Zuniga says. “Hospitals should never be dehumanizing, but should strive to reach your high standards. I continue to feel grateful and appreciative of your staff and their amazing work.”