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Passage quilts comfort the dying at Legacy Mount Hood

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Theresa Robinette draws comfort from the Passage Quilt her mother received as she was dying at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center in Gresham. Theresa Robinette will never forget the colorful quilt placed on her mother as she lay dying at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center.

“It is more precious than words can ever say,” she said.

At first the idea of keeping the quilt — a reminder of a very painful time — made her uncomfortable.

“I didn’t think I’d want a memory of that time,” she said.

Once her mother passed, her perception of it changed.

“My Lord, I’m so grateful to have it.”

The quilt was put to use in the three weeks before her passing. “It was on her every day. Everybody saw the blanket, and everyone loved the blanket.”

The Robinette family is just one of five to 10 families given a “Passage Quilt” every month at Legacy Mount Hood on Southeast Stark Street to comfort and honor their loved ones as they are dying. The quilts also serve to console the grieving left behind while creating a keepsake and memory.

“It injects such beauty into such a time of sadness,” Robinette said of the colorful patchwork her mother, Mary Cannada, received. Cannada, like her daughter, was a caregiver. She was very involved in her church, held a weekly bible study at her home, wrote poetry, and as Robinette said, “could do anything with arts and crafts.” Cannada, she noted, clearly appreciated the beauty of the patchwork.

Alice Tate, chaplain at Legacy Mount Hood, who is often the person who presents the quilts, said, “The quilt helps them start the grieving process. When your loved one is dying, your world stops. The quilt is a symbol.”

The quilts help families with “feeling the feelings, working through the pain of that grief,” Tate said.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: TERESA CARSON - Carla Liepold, one of the quilters and a nurse at Legacy Mount Hood Medical Center, shows one of the patriotic quilts that are often given to veterans and first responders.The quilts are made by a group of six quilters led by two nurses, Carla Liepold, a nurse in the short stay unit, and Jan Visonhaler, who recently retired from that section. The group has created the striking 40-inch by 60-inch coverlets for about 10 years.

The quilts, Visonhaler noted, “are the last thing touching their loved ones. It lets people know that somebody is thinking about them. It gives people (in this situation) something to talk about, something else to look at.”

Visonhaler also belongs to a quilting guild, which also contributes attractive coverlets, especially when supplies run low.

The women work on the quilts as they can and have two week-long retreats a year to power-quilt through as many coverlets as they can.

“We quilt, quilt, quilt,” said Leipold, who learned the craft through taking classes and estimates she has made between 50 and 60 quilts.

The quilt becomes part of a ritual of passing, Tate said, noting that sometimes a nurse caring for the patient is the one who selects and gives the quilts, which the nurses appreciate.

“When we place the quilt on them, we never know what is going to happen in the room. So much of what nurses do is task-oriented,” Tate said. “When they are able to give a quilt, it is a way for them to care for their patients that isn’t task-oriented.”

Robinette was not there when the quilt was presented to her mother, but noted the patterns and colors were perfect for her mom. “She thought it was beautiful,” Robinette said.

The quilts are stunning and come in all the colors of the rainbow. Some are pastels, and others are vibrant with jewel tones, some set off by black. “I have a tendency to use a lot of blues,” Liepold noted.

“Men are harder to create quilts for,” Leipold said. “We go with more earthy colors, and sometimes we find fishing or bird fabrics. We figure those will appeal to someone.”

The group always makes sure there are patriotic, red, white and blue quilts on hand for veterans, first responders and others.

The groups use a lot of donated fabrics, which influence the design. “We look at the fabrics and say, ‘How can this come together in a beautiful way?’” Leipold said, noting she pauses with each quilt before she turns it. “When I’m done, I spend a little time with it. I think of kindness and love and warmth and that it will bring the family to a place of peace.”

The quilters also gain from the experience.

“They are so blessed. There is a joy in giving,” Tate said. “They love to quilt. And they love to bless people and give these beautiful quilts.”

Leipold sees her efforts as helping to make someone’s final days a little sweeter.

“I like to know that something I’ve made has comforted someone,” she said, “that something I’ve made can help people.”

Visonhaler concurred. “We do it out of love.”

Pulling the colorful quilt to her body, Robinette tears up a bit.

“You can see the love that went into this,” she said.