There are days when the staff at Hospice Yukon come to work to find their mailbox stuffed with hearts.
“Feelie hearts,” that is – stuffed, hand-stitched fabric creations that are small enough to hold in the palm of your hand. For the last 10 years Hospice Yukon has been handing them out to grieving Yukoners as a tangible reminder of their loss.
“One time we had a beautiful, very bursting, bag of feelie hearts in the mailbox, you couldn’t even close the lid,” says communications coordinator Deb Higgins.
Inside a drawer in one of the front rooms, Higgins pulls out a large Ziploc bag stuffed with hearts, each handmade by volunteers.
Some are stuffed with dog fur specifically for people who have lost a pet. Some are hand-knit using red wool. There are hearts made out of pink patterned fleece that looks like it had a former life as children’s pyjama bottoms. Others feel like they might have been an old bath robe.
“The idea is that you can keep this little, very tactile, heart in your pocket,” Higgins said.
“It’s just a reminder that you were loved and that you can love and to hold your heart tenderly.”
Feelie hearts began south of the border in 1988 at a children’s bereavement support group in Tacoma, Washington.
Since then the idea has spread to different groups for adults and children.
At Hospice Yukon, people dealing with grief are able to go through the variety of feelie hearts and pick one to keep.
“No two are alike, that’s kind of the beauty of them,” Higgins said.
“When people come they can choose one that speaks to them and keep it in their purse, or in their car, or their pocket.”
An impressive display of feelie hearts hangs on the wall near the desk. About 600 hearts in various shades of red and purple have been stitched together by Yukon artist Suzanne Picot to create a large quilt-like art piece.
Picot, a long-time Hospice Yukon volunteer, spent more than a year hand sewing the hearts, Higgins says.
Odds are that within the next month or so her hard work will be in pieces.
May is National Hospice Month. To mark the occasion, the feelie heart quilt will hang in the front window of Mac’s Fireweed Books for the first two weeks of May.
After that, it will return to the Hospice Yukon offices on Hanson Street where members of the public can come in and snip a heart off the quilt to take home.
“The feelie heart quilt started out as a creative expression and personal challenge to distribute as many of them as possible in an unusual way,” Picot said in a description of her piece.
“What resulted was a powerful meditation on the tactile beauty and impermanence of life.”
Hospice Yukon was reluctant at first to snip apart the art. But now Higgins says she’s amazed by Picot’s desire to share her work with as many people as possible.
“All the time and everything that went into this quilt, and then not just to give it away to hospice but give it away to everyone who will come and take a piece of it, it’s just a beautiful act.”
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