Providing comfort to patients through prayer shawls and teddy bears

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Providing comfort to patients through prayer shawls and teddy bears

Toronto, June 18, 2019

By Jennifer Stranges

Rev. Pamela Lucas and Pauline Bowers
Rev. Pamela Lucas and Pauline Bowers

An initiative from St. Michael’s Hospital’s Spiritual Care department is providing patients and their families with some comfort during difficult times.

Knitted or crocheted prayer shawls and teddy bears, referred to as comfort bears, are being offered by spiritual care practitioners as tangible sources of comfort. The items are created and donated by the congregations of St. George’s Church in Oshawa, Ont., St. Paul's Basilica, Toronto, and the Knitters and Knatters group of Newcastle, Ont.

Each shawl comes with a card attached, with a message explaining who made it and offering words of support. Though created in churches and blessed at an altar, the prayer shawls and comfort bears have no religious affiliation and are meant to provide comfort to those who need it, regardless of faith or cultural background.

“These items come from love. They say to people: you are not alone,” said Rev. Pamela Lucas, a spiritual care practitioner. “I may not be able to be with patients 24 hours a day but something else, something tangible, can be. Quite often that’s just what they need.”

A gesture with humble beginnings has become a high demand program at St. Michael’s, expanding to all units.

“It’s completely taken off,” said Lucas. “One of the groups has been donating the prayer shawls to the Palliative Care department for a long time and we found that other people in the hospital wanted them. They had seen patients with them, and said, ‘What are these? I think I would find it helpful.’”

Lucas connected with Pauline Bowers, a registered nurse with the Gastroenterology department at St. Michael’s who worked with St. George’s Church and the Knitters and Knatters to facilitate the expansion and introduce comfort bears.

“When I see patients with the shawls and/or teddies it makes me smile,” said Bowers. “It’s a way of healing the body and spirit.”

The shawls and bears have had significant impact in the trauma department and ICU. Rev. Joel Aguirre is a spiritual care practitioner at St. Michael’s Hospital who often works with the families of patients who are intubated and critically ill.

“Most of the families are feeling overwhelmed, shocked, and anxious. Prior to withdrawal of care there is lots of anxiety and emotion,” said Aguirre. “The prayer shawls provide comfort and pave the way for the family to speak about their loved one and gain some closure.”

Families can take the prayer shawls home with them after their loved one has passed away as a symbol of remembrance.

The comfort bears are a popular item amongst younger visitors. Lucas recalls a patient who unexpectedly went into premature labour. The patient’s family was waiting at the hospital, including her young daughter, who was without toys and visibly upset. Lucas offered the child a comfort bear. There was immediate calmness in the child’s body language.

For patients and their families who are struggling with their diagnosis or condition, having a prayer shawl and/or comfort bear can ease the distress. “It’s in those moments,” says Lucas, “that having something tangible can offer the most comfort.”

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in more than 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the Hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael’s Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About Unity Health Toronto

Unity Health Toronto, comprised of Providence Healthcare, St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital, works to advance the health of everyone in our urban communities and beyond. Our health network serves patients, residents and clients across the full spectrum of care, spanning primary care, secondary community care, tertiary and quaternary care services to post-acute through rehabilitation, palliative care and long-term care, while investing in world-class research and education. For more information, visit

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