Calling all knitters: Beth Israel Deaconess chaplains seek shawls

The Spiritual Care Department at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston is inviting knitters to share their gift and help bring comfort to dying patients and their families.  The Beth Israel comfort shawls initiative is part of the chaplains’ “comfort carts," where chaplains bring a cart of fresh food, tissues, mints and a knitted shawl to patients and families during the dying process. Families can then take the shawl home, as a reminder of their loved one. 

The Rev. Katie Rimer, an Episcopal priest and the director of spiritual care and education at Beth Israel, recounted one instance where a woman was dying at the medical center while her daughter was pregnant. The comfort shawl later became the baby’s blanket. 

“It was a real transitional object, a connection to the grandmother she would never meet,” Rimer said. “There's this sacred experience that the family goes though together, and the blanket becomes a memory of that time. People have just been overwhelmingly touched by it.” 

The comfort carts program was piloted in two intensive care units over the summer, and the response from families was so positive that it has expanded to six units. Chaplains are responsible for keeping the carts stocked and connecting with families when a patient is dying. 

The idea originally came from Beth Israel Medical Center’s chief operating officer, Nancy Formella, Rimer said. Formella herself is an avid knitter, and the initiative began with staff knitting shawls for patients. 

“As we have made it more systematic and a part of the comfort cart for every patient who dies here, we are realizing we don’t have enough knitters [on the staff] to keep up,” Rimer said. 

Rimer encourages church knitting ministries or individuals who would like to knit comfort shawls to reach out to her directly. She has an optional pattern and guidelines for yarn available. 

“They can be prayerfully knitting these blankets, and trust that they are put to good use and that their prayers are extended beyond the patient to the family, and that will become a treasured gift,” Rimer said. 

Knitters or parish knitting groups that would like to contribute to the comfort shawls initiative may contact the Rev. Katie Rimer at

--Ellen Stuart Kittle