“He just stood there by the front door. He couldn’t bring himself to leave,” says Wendy Gray-Bois, a hospice nurse at the residence in La Mesa, Calif.

Following that incident, Gray-Bois and Solomon Hailu, Sharp HospiceCare’s spiritual chaplain, wanted to do something to help not only families, but also hospice staff, to process their grief. Gray-Bois says hospice staff feel the loss of their patients intensely, and they deal with it on an ongoing basis.

Hailu and Gray-Bois came up with the idea of “love stones” as a lasting medium for expression, encouraging family, friends and hospice staff to draw or write something special on the rocks: a memory, a poem, a quote, a picture, something they want to say to their loved ones. It provides closure and celebration, it is a nice way of remembering the deceased and it also helps to process one's feelings, says Gray-Bois.

When it recently came time for Candace Allen’s grandmother, who was suffering from an uncommon brain disorder called progressive supranuclear palsy, or PSP, to enter hospice, it was a difficult and emotional decision for her family. But Allen says they were pleasantly surprised when they reached the homelike Sharp HospiceCare LakeView residence where her grandmother spent her final days.

“Wendy was there the first day and talked to us about making love stones,” Allen says. “I immediately loved it. I was going into this process feeling absolutely devastated. My grandmother and I were extremely close. Creating love stones was a tangible, beautiful way for me to pay tribute to her in the place where I knew she would take her last breaths.”

Allen’s children, her mother, her sister and her sister’s children all made love stones for her grandmother. Allen wrote her a personal message; her children decorated theirs with hearts and “Best Grams Ever”; and her mother had Allen’s sister, who is artistic, draw a hummingbird, the symbol for PSP, and the message “Cure PSP.” Allen says she looks forward to visiting and finding them in the garden at LakeView. “It was a strangely healing thing to do,” she says.

The completed love stones can be placed in the garden at the residence in a special spot. But families are also welcome to take the stones home with them if they want. To date, nearly 3,000 love stones have been created at the three Sharp HospiceCare residences, which are part of seven-hospital Sharp HealthCare system, based in San Diego.

People can even create them before their loved one passes. “Often, people are going through the house, looking for something to do. They’ll see the table with the candles and a little card explaining the love stones and they’ll ask, ‘Oh, can I do a love stone?’” says Gray-Bois. “And if we have children come in, we’ll often ask them if they want to make one.”

Many of the love stones live in LakeView’s backyard garden. “It’s a nice, organic way to remember someone," Gray-Bois says. "We walk out into the backyard, see the stones and walk among them, and talk about the people we remember.” Family members often wander into the backyard and catch sight of the love stone garden. “They realize they’re not the only ones going through this, and they get caught up in reading all the messages, ” she adds.