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Preserving Memories with a Handprint

Tomah Memorial Hospital certified social worker Kaelyn Laylan, CSW, coordinates the hospital’s handprint program that preserves the memory of a loved one.


While the death of a loved one can be difficult to forget, a new service offered by Tomah Memorial Hospital is helping families cope with the loss by preserving memories through a handprint.

As part of training for a grief support specialist certificate through the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Tomah Memorial Hospital certified social worker Kaelyn Laylan, CSW, has coordinated a local program that a preserves the handprint of a loved one after they have died. “There is something intimate about a handprint,” Laylan said of the unique service. “Being able to have that handprint to look at later on for family members is a great thing.”

 Laylan learned of the handprint program as part of services offered by Resolve Through Sharing® RTS - a Gundersen Medical Foundation effort that provides bereavement education, consultation, and patient support materials to health care facilities.

Family members can request the handprint during end of life planning with hospital staff. Laylan said the handprint is placed on a 14” x 11” cardstock certificate that also includes the poem “Sometimes” by Marcia Updyke. “When I think of my grandpa who died I always think about his hands,” Laylan explained. “He was a farmer so his hands were worn, so to me personally that is a connection I make.”

Once plans for the program were in place, Laylan met with hospital staff to educate them on how to approach families about the service, which Laylan said helped them better communicate with families during what is often a difficult time.

“Nurses have commented that the program is a great thing to offer families; it really opens the door to conversations,” Laylan said.

While the program is geared toward surviving families, Laylan says it also enables hospital staff to grow and provide enhanced customer service. “It makes us all think of additional ways that we can aid families in their time of need,” Laylan said.

Hospital Quality / Compliance director Shelly Egstad, MASL, RN, said she is proud of the way Laylan stepped forward and coordinated the program that ultimately enhances patient experiences. “No one can replace a loved one but this is a small imprint of a point in time in their life where they left a lasting impression,” Egstad said. “It really shows how much we care at a time when somethings are out of our hands.”

Laylan said even though just a few families have taken part in the handprint program since it began earlier this year, it has been a welcome service that offers a cherished keepsake that they can take home with them following a loved ones’ death.

She added that the handprint program fits well with condolence cards sent to families shortly after the death, another around Christmas and a final card one year after the passing. “I’ve heard from family members that it’s a nice touch and something unexpected,” Laylan said. “It’s another way we can show how much we care.”