Helping to Make Long-Lasting Memories (One Pillowcase at a Time)

Lay these threads around in places you’ve been to create paths for loved ones to visit,” an excerpt from the book Threads to Gigi. In 2017, Hospice & Community Care Social Worker, Sarah Schrock, helped the Fleeman family stay connected one thread at a time through the Sweet Dreams pillowcase.

Rylie and her grandmother, Annette, or as she affectionately called her Gigi, were inseparable. “Annette always wanted to be a grandmother and Rylie was her first and only grandchild she got to experience,” shared Dana Trabucco, Rylie’s mother and Annette’s daughter-in-law. “During her illness, when Annette would meet with her counselor at Johns Hopkins, her goal was always to watch Rylie live and grow, and do everything for and with her.”

Annette loved to garden so Dana made sure that Rylie and her Gigi were able to spend quality time together in the flower beds. They would walk in them and smell and pick flowers. They would also sit on the patio and admire them. “Today when we plant something, Rylie believes we plant it all for Gigi and tries to learn different flower names,” commented Dana. “She also asks to look back at pictures of her and Gigi in the flower beds. We celebrate Annette’s birthday often by planting something.”

In May, 2017, Annette was served by Hospice & Community Care at its Bob Fryer & Family Inpatient Center. “Neither my husband nor I have ever had a family member receive hospice care so we were not sure what to expect,” shared Dana. “It was a peaceful experience. We visited every day, all day and spent most of our meals with Annette in her room. To have Rylie with us was special because it just seemed like we were hanging out. Annette was not hooked up to machines that scared Rylie and she just saw her Gigi everyday as nothing was out of the ordinary. Annette went peacefully and we could not have asked for a better last week with her. She was comfortable and we got to spend time with her.”

Grief is experienced by the entire family – children, teens and adults. Amid serious illness and death, children and teens often are overlooked, yet their needs are significant. Many children and teens use art as a way to express their grief. Hospice & Community Care has memory-making kits for children, teens and families to stay connected with their loved ones. The memory-making kit includes the Sweet Dreams pillowcase. “This art experience can naturally give way to conversation among families, including the children, to provide a meaningful experience,” shared social worker, Sarah Schrock.

Sarah knew about the close relationship between Annette and Rylie and she gave Dana a Sweet Dreams pillowcase for Rylie.

“The Sweet Dreams pillowcases are a wonderful memento that we can share with children as a way for them to feel connected to their loved one who is receiving hospice care,” shared Sarah. “We encourage children to decorate the pillowcase in a way that is meaningful to them, whether drawing pictures of things they enjoy doing together with their loved one, drawing their family, or things that make them feel happy or comforted. If their loved one is feeling well enough, we offer this as a project to create together. The pillowcase can then be used by their loved one or by the child as a way to bring comfort and connection. I have also seen families use the pillowcase as decoration, draped over the head of their loved one’s bed, or hung on the wall. So many children have connected with their loved one in this tangible way through the Sweet Dreams pillowcases, and are often eager to show their beautiful creation with those around them.”

“My daughter never decorated the pillowcase because she was so young in understanding the loss of it all,” shared Dana. Rylie was one and a half years old at the time of her Gigi’s death. But Dana shared that she wanted to bring the pillowcase “to life and create a memory from it so that Rylie could understand and remember it the rest of her life and, hopefully, someday share the pillowcase with someone that experiences loss.”

Dana was inspired to help other grieving children and families from Sarah’s gesture. “The pillowcase stayed in my mind and evolved from a dream that I had of my mother-in-law, Annette,” shared Dana. “She became present in our everyday lives and through the dream she told me that everywhere we went threads trailed behind us leaving paths for loved ones to follow. When Annette passed away, Rylie was too young to understand the ‘why’ of it all. I wrote the book, Threads to Gigi, published in August, 2020, to help Rylie, and hopefully other little ones, understand loss and to give hope that their loved ones are still here to watch them grow, even after they have passed on.” The book was illustrated by Lancaster native Kate Ampersand.

Dana’s hopes in writing, Threads to Gigi, is to help other children who are struggling with grief and loss find a way to process those emotions while also finding joy in the little reminders of their loved one. “It is a message of hope that even when people leave us, they fill us with love and memories that carry on far beyond their lifetime,” shared Dana. “In my own family, the book has helped my husband, Brad, Annette’s son, grow to talk about his mom and not feel sad. It also allowed him to share loving stories and bring Gigi to the forefront of Rylie’s memory again.”

The Sweet Dreams pillowcase is just one of the many ways that Hospice & Community Care’s staff provide personalized care and comfort to patients and families. This small gesture from Sarah is having a far-reaching impact and making a meaningful difference in the lives of grieving children and parents.

“Before Annette passed, she left a note in a book that she gave to Rylie for Easter that said, ‘Remember all of our fun times planting flowers and watching them grow. I hope you will always like to garden and think of Gigi when planting flowers with your mom and dad. Then, when you get your own home I’ll be watching over you. Love you so much, Gigi,’” shared Dana.

Support Hospice & Community Care’s Children’s Grief Support
The Ruach “Breath of God” Endowment Fund provides for spiritual growth and comfort for children and teens. The Fund also provides spiritual care components of bereavement support provided by the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss for patients, families and the community. The cost of the Sweet Dreams pillowcase kit supplies is covered by the Ruach Endowment Fund. An average of 250 pillowcases are made each year for or with Hospice patients by children and teens.

An anonymous donor established the Ruach Fund after purchasing a quilt at the Hospice Labor Day Auction. The quilt was created to reflect the experience and feelings of the children who had attended Camp Chimaqua, Hospice & Community Care’s bereavement camp for children. For this person, the quilt symbolizes how children are comforted by bereavement support provided by the Pathways Center’s Coping Kids & Teens program, including Camp Chimaqua.

To make a gift to The Rauch “Breath of God” Endowment Fund, please contact Amy Lewis, Director of Philanthropy, Hospice & Community Care at (717) 735-8729 or