The WellSpan Spotlight

Bright spots

WellSpan BrightSpot: Supporting grieving families with butterflies 

Who: Team members from WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital's critical care unit and pastoral care services in partnership with the Summit Endowment organized a butterfly release ceremony to honor patients who died between 2020 and 2021.  

"We chose butterflies because they represent hope, faith, and in some cultures, they are symbolic of angels," said Brittany Thorson, WellSpan nurse practitioner.  "This event was a way for families and caregivers to come together to honor the loved ones they lost – a healing process for all of us."  

WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital team members attended the butterfly release.

Dozens of families attended the ceremony, some holding up phones so other family members could join in, to watch as a monarch butterfly was released in their loved ones' honor.  

One of those patients honored, Denny Newcomer, spent five weeks in the care of the critical care team before he passed away from COVID-19. His wife, Debbie spoke at the event about the care they both received from the hospital team.    

What: Debbie recalled the hope she felt when she was told she was able to visit her husband of 38 years, 14 days after she had brought him to the emergency department. 

When she got to the hospital, she met Colleen Kylor, clinical manager, in the critical care unit.  

Debbie said, "She spoke words of comfort, care, and genuine concern. She did not rush the moment to get back to her task. She did not try to make me hurry past all my emotions. She stood there and held me as I sobbed."  

For the next several weeks, Debbie spent many long days and nights with Denny, even when he was on a ventilator and could not respond.  

Debbie said her husband's team of nurses – Rachel Wingert, Holly Wollard, and Jen Shank – cared for her just as much as they did Denny.  

"I could not have made it through those long, lonely, scary, and silent days without them," she said. "They spoke encouraging and supporting words, they delivered many pots of coffee, and brought me lots of warm blankets." 

Most importantly, Debbie said the team "patiently answered all my questions, retrieved answers when they didn't have one, and just listened to me."  

The team's manager and member of Denny's care team said she is proud of her critical care colleagues. 

"I am most honored to be part of the amazing group of people who are passionate about the work they do," said Kylor. "It truly is an honor to care for our community." 

Words to live by: Like a butterfly, those who are grieving the loss of a loved one also go through a transformation.  

"This Debbie today is not the same Debbie she was two years ago. I'm a little bit sadder, but a whole lot stronger. I feel more vulnerable, but I am more resilient," Debbie said. "Today, I still grieve him, and cry for him, but I am much more able to comfort and extend compassion."   

Debbie Newcomer, holding photo of her husband, Denny.

"As caregivers, we are not only caring for our patients, but we often care for and support their family members too," said Kylor. "It's hard to lose a patient, and even harder to watch the impact it has on their families. It is also deeply rewarding for us to provide that support and care to the entire family as part of each patient's unique journey." 

"The respect and honor that every single one of those nurses showed my husband, meant more than words could ever express," Debbie said.