Holding hearts proves a unique ritual at Mary Potter Hospice

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Holding a knitted heart in the palm of your hand, infusing it with love, and gifting it to someone special, is a gentle but meaningful activity in a hospice environment.

‘Holding Hearts’ has now become an important end-of-life ritual at Kapiti’s Mary Potter Hospice thanks to an idea from Occupational Therapist Linda Miller. She organised Mary Potter’s 2021 entry into the Hospice OT Yarn Bombing Challenge (sponsored by Cubro) to help celebrate World OT Day and OT Week each October.

“We did a teddy bear’s picnic scene with lots of colourful knitted hearts as our yarn bombing entry. I also wanted to do something within our hospice that had ongoing meaning and I thought the hearts could be the start of a really good future resource for our patients and families,” Linda explains.


In the UK, a similar initiative had been launched by the NHS to connect patients who were separated from their families during the peak Covid crisis.

“It can work in different ways, really. One idea is that a patient might choose knitted hearts for different family members or loved ones. They can choose the colour that resonates best for that person. They then hold each knitted heart in their hands or against their own hearts and just infuse it with love before gifting it to their loved one. It’s quite a lovely thing to do. But also, family members can do the same thing in reverse for their special person in hospice.”

For those in the hospice’s in-patient unit, the hearts provide a sense of comfort when their loved ones aren’t around. “It’s something they can hold in their hands. It’s soft, they can pop it in their pockets. Nobody else needs to see it necessarily, it’s just something that’s always there.”

Linda says the knitted hearts are provided by hospice staff, volunteers and local knitting groups. Gifting the hearts provides people with an opportunity to voice their feelings – something which doesn’t always come easy. “It opens up a pathway for people, especially those who are particularly staunch, to tell their family members how much they love them.”

Having worked at Mary Potter for 24 years, Linda says employing OTs to bring meaningful activities like this one into patient’s lives is an incredibly rewarding thing for hospices to do.

“I think if people could see the value of what’s offered by OTs, that a lot more hospices would make it a priority to include them in their staffing." says Linda

"I work with people in our community hospice base and in their homes – looking at what is important to them in their lives and how they can maintain involvement in the activities that give their life meaning. This may include providing adaptations or equipment for independence, safety, and comfort to enhance wellbeing and quality of life; education and techniques to help people live with low energy or manage shortness of breath; relaxation techniques; and meaningful activity - including therapeutic activity sessions such as creative and recreational activities and legacy work like memory boxes or special gifts for loved ones.”

For people facing end of life, it’s not about just existing – it’s about living, Linda says. “OTs have got the skills and opportunity to help people make the most of life. That’s the beauty of working in hospice. We have much more scope to focus on all of those holistic things."

Rolling out a creative initiative in your hospice? Enter our annual yarn bombing creative challenge and your hospice could WIN!

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