Running a volunteer program of any size brings many “perks.” One of the best gifts is the ability to develop deep relationships with many of the dedicated people who work with you. Crafters, in particular, not only leave you with vivid memories of the time you spent with them, but through their amazing gifts, you have visual reminders of who they were and why they were so special.
There were many people who made an indelible impression on me during my nine years at St. Mary. When friends or loved ones pass on, we tend to say that the world is a little less bright because of their absence. In working with crafters, I believe the opposite: the world is brighter because they were here.
Among the many life stories, I came to know, the story of Irene Golden touched me deeply. Irene and her daughter Celeste were one of the three mother-daughter teams participating in the Healing Environments Program at St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, PA.
Irene’s life was not an easy one. Her family emigrated from Eastern Europe and her childhoodwas one of struggle. When she married, her husband, who had served in WWII, suffered what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. His issues—particularly his alcoholism–caused the family a great deal of grief and turmoil. But Irene was not one to be undone by hardship.
Crocheting was her way of coping. It helped Irene tap into her creative side. She made unique sweaters for her daughters and their friends. Eventually, she made beautiful things for members of her parish, friends, and family. Occasionally, complete strangers would admire her work and she would create something for them, too.
When Celeste was in high school, she finally asked her mother to teach her to crochet. In spite of a rocky start, Celeste, too, became talented at the craft. When mother and daughter heard about the Healing Environments Program, they signed up and their work became highly valued. In the beginning, they made full afghans. But, eventually, the size of the afghans became too difficult for Irene to manage. Irene then started to make caplets for patients: they were light weight but warm for the patients to wear. Irene’s Caplets quickly became a much sought-after item.
For five years, Irene was an active member of the Crafters of St Mary. She and Celeste attended meetings together and made many friends. When Irene turned 90, her entire family took her on a cruise to celebrate. Irene was truly overwhelmed when the ship’s Captain lead her into the dining room and all the guests shouted “Surprise!” She gave a heartfelt speech at the end of the dinner thanking everyone for blessing her life with their love.
Two weeks after returning from the cruise, Irene started to experience alarming symptoms that were diagnosed as leukemia. It was an aggressive form, and she was not given a long time to live. Typical of Irene, she faced the last days of her life with courage and positivity. She was able to stay at Celeste’s home under the care of hospice nurses. She helped her family prepare for departure from this world by telling them what she wanted. She passed away early on Christmas morning. Far from being a sad reminder, her family accepted it as a final gift from Irene: a time to remember her when they were all together.