Glass hands allow families to reflect on challenges, triumphs of illness

In the summer of 2009 glass blower Stephen Bishop, a volunteer with the Child Life program in the Children’s Hospital at Scott & White, was asked by Child Life specialist Jan Upchurch to cast a hand print of a terminally ill child. The family wanted some kind of memorial keepsake to represent their child’s life.

“I had never done anything so difficult in my life,” Bishop said. He found it equally challenging the second time he was asked to do so, and decided then to start offering the casting as a fun activity pediatric patients and their families could do to help them during their journeys through a serious illness or injury.

The casting, which was fairly easy to implement but involved material preparation and cleanup afterwards, eventually evolved into the Glass Hands project, a joint venture between the Children’s Hospital at Scott & White and Salado Arts Workshop, a not-for-profit organization that promotes local artists who preserve traditional arts trades.

According to Tibish Meyers, Salado Arts Workshops founder, the glass hands capture a moment in time for pediatric patients and their families during an especially challenging health crisis. The process involves tracing the patient’s and family members’ hands on a piece of 8 x 10 inch paper. Each person then writes their name or a message and decorates their hand using no more than three colors. The paper is used as a design template that is laid under a piece of glass that is sprinkled with glass powder that matches the colors found in the original design. The sheet of glass is then fired to create a unique piece of stained glass. Tibish says the entire process takes about two weeks to complete.

Child Life specialists at Scott & White — staff who help to meet a pediatric patient’s (and their family’s) emotional and developmental needs — identify families that would benefit from this experience and then approach them to see if they would like to participate. There is no charge to the family for this service.

“Not all of the patients we select are terminal,” explains Upchurch. “Sometimes they are just facing an extremely challenging illness or injury from which they will recover. It’s important to capture and recognize the struggle the family is going through. The glass hands serve as a wonderful way for families to bond, reflect and sometimes, although sad, to heal.”

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Glass hands allow families to reflect on challenges, triumphs of illness