At the most difficult and painful time, comfort came in the soft, fleecy embrace of a hand-made blanket.
Alice Heikens remembers how much happiness a warm blanket brought her parents when they were in palliative and hospice care at the end of their lives. After they died, she pondered different ways to honor their memory.
She found her answer working with piles of fluffy fabric at her sewing machine.
“Fabric and yarn are my therapy. When I’m making a blanket, I’m thinking of a person who might be using them. I’m hoping that they’ll feel valued, that someone made something for them,” she said. “And I hope it’s helpful to the family.”
Heikens has been using her free time to make fleece blankets for patients at Main Street Hospice in Franklin. She creates comfy coverings in all colors, styles and designs. Some have pictures of frolicking animals or flowers. Others feature sports equipment or tools.
Her favorites are the ones she makes for veterans and military members — red, white and blue with patriotic designs.
Since she started her project, Heikens has made 250 blankets for the hospice.
“I can’t fathom how much time and money she puts into these, and just gives them to us to give to our patients,” said Kim Weddle, administrator at Main Street Hospice. “What a ministry she’s done on her own. I just admire her so much.”
The motivation came for making the blankets came shortly after Heikens’ mother died. She was on Facebook, when she spotted a call-out from Main Street Hospice. They were looking for volunteers who could make blankets for their patients.
Towards the end of their lives, both Heikens’ mother and father seemed to always be chilly.
“They were always cold, they were always wrapped up in blankets,” she said.
Her father had a special blanket that he received for being a military veteran, which was something the Heikens still cherished.
“When I saw that post, that was meaningful to me,” she said.
She reached out to leadership at Main Street Hospice. They discussed what the hospice wanted and how to best help their patients.
With a more clear picture of what to make, Heikens got to work. She had a sewing machine, and had done fabric work in the past. But she had never tackled a project of this magnitude.
“I can do some basic sewing, but I’m not a seamstress by any stretch of the imagination,” she said. “I just have fun and I play.”
Heikens started sewing full-sized blankets. Each one takes a couple of hours, and she finds the time whenever she can set some aside.
“It’s my therapy. I love it; it’s fun for me. If I have time, I say, ‘Oh, I get to make a blanket today.’ Sometimes if I’m stressed and need to relax, I’ll make a blanket that day,” she said. “I like to do things with my hands. It feels productive.”
She focused on three main categories: patriotic designs for veterans and military members; patterns aimed for older women, and styles for men with cars, sports and other hobbies.
One of her favorite designs feature snowmen.
“It’s bright, it’s cheerful, it’s fun. Particularly during the winter months, which can be harder for the patients, I like to do something cheerful for them,” she said.
Other groups provide quilts or crocheted blankets for Main Street Hospice’s patients, but Heikens opted to make hers out of fleece.
“The warmest are probably the fleece, and it was really important to me that the blankets were warm,” she said.
Once she finishes a stack of blankets, Heikens brings them to Main Street Hospice’s office to distribute to their patients. If they need a particular style or have a patient who is very interested in a particular hobby or design, she tries to make it for them.
Her dedication to those patients has been heartwarming, Weddle said.
“Our name is Main Street Hospice, and we have that name because we want to be a hometown hospice with a hometown feel,” she said. “It helps us treat our patients like family.”
The project has also forged a strong relationship between the hospice and Heikens.
“I can call her and say I have a patient who was a truck driver mechanic — do you have any of the material with the tools on it? And she’ll have it for me in a couple of days,” said Debbie Adams, schedule coordinator at Main Street Hospice. “It’s the personal aspect.”
Heikens compassion has extended even beyond the hospice. One of Adams’ friends was in a serious car accident and had to be in the hospital for two weeks. This friend loved the Beatles, so Heikens offered to make a “Hey Jude” themed blanket for her.
“(My friend) didn’t take it off the entire time,” Adams said. “And Alice wouldn’t take anything for that blanket. I stood here and cried, she stood here and cried. For being a 26-year-old young lady who had to be in the hospital for two months, it meant the world to her.”
Heikens plans to keep making blankets as long as she can. She hopes that the work brings others warmth and a sense of care, but she knows that the efforts have had a profound effect on at least one person — herself.
“I love the idea of helping a patient and their family for what is probably some of the most difficult moments,” she said. “Anything I can do to bring a little bit of comfort, and help them realize that others care for them, brings me great joy.”