Helping families heal through art
Tile Tales project offers comfort to patients and families experiencing serious illnesses and end-of-life care
September 21, 2023
By Jackie Fowler, Communications Advisor, Covenant Foundation
Before Wayne Mack lost his beloved wife, Shannon, to gastrointestinal cancer, they painted a ceramic tile together and she wrote a poem about the care and compassion of the team that supported her every day on the palliative care unit at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital.
“Shannon decided she wanted to create a tile to show what the staff of unit 43 meant to her,” says Wayne. “She wanted the theme (interlocking hands) to reflect that.”
Wayne and Shannon created their tile painting and poem as part of Tile Tales, an expressive art program facilitated by staff on the Grey Nuns’ palliative care unit as a therapeutic way for patients, families and team members to reflect on palliative care and end-of-life support. The completed artwork and writings are displayed in the hallways and rooms of the unit to offer comfort and support to others facing the same emotional journey and to the staff who provide care.
Created by Edmonton art therapist Dr. Marilyn Hundleby, the program was initiated at the Grey Nuns in 2008 by Dr. Cheryl Nekolaichuk, who was a psychologist with the unit at that time. Supported by grants from the Covenant Foundation, it has been a source of healing for people every year since.
“Life and death are part of a human experience we all go through,” says Christine Enfield, unit 43 chaplain. “This program is vital, and we are so thankful to the Covenant Foundation and its donors because it helps our team to bring families together at a critical time to make healing possible.”
Working on a tile project was an experience Bev Burton was able to share with her daughter-in-law, Nattiya, when she was a patient on the unit. Like the Mack family, Bev and her family found some solace and healing through the Tile Tales program.
“Tile Tales being available to my friends and family was a special means of creating a memory," says Bev. “In our case, Nat was still with us, and this project offered us the comfort of sharing her thoughts in the process. It was an amazing way to channel and divert some of the worry and sadness, even just for a short time. I hope that future patients will feel the same way we did in being able to participate in such a special
For patients and families who participate in the program, the project starts with creating an image followed by a story or poem to accompany it. While staff say participants may initially feel doubtful that they are creative or artistic, what emerges from their work together is inspirational.
“When we see how the Tile Tales program makes a difference, it inspires our whole team to keep going, to keep moving forward, to keep doing our best to help the next family in need,” says Christine. “I began working with the Tile Tales program alongside music therapist Sheila Killoran, who has supported this therapeutic opportunity with compassion. It takes a team to continue to support the program.”
Thanks to the support of the foundation, Tile Tales is available at no cost to patients and their families, and families can take a copy of their tile home to cherish for years to come. Donor generosity also helps fund a wide array of books to aid in grief support, especially for teenagers and children.
Thinking back to his time with Shannon on the palliative care unit, Wayne appreciates the care his family received.
“I personally want to express my gratitude and thanks for the dedication and professionalism of the staff on unit 43 at the Grey Nuns hospital,” he says.