‘Bean Bags’ aim to give UAB Hospital families basic comforts, necessities

‘Bean Bags’ aim to give UAB Hospital families basic comforts, necessities
In memory of the Bean family's loving father and husband who died of esophageal cancer, patients at UAB receive special care packages known as 'Bean Bags.' The gifts – ranging from pre-moistened wipes, quarters for snack machines, basic toiletries, puzzles and other helpful items – make life better for family members who are living their lives in hospital waiting rooms. Kim Bean (right) and her daughters said that it is their way of 'paying forward' the many kindnesses they received when Jeremy Bean was in treatment for esophageal cancer at UAB. (Savannah Koplon/UAB)

After Kim Bean’s husband Jeremy died in November 2012 at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital due to complications from esophageal cancer, she wanted to find a way for her and her two young daughters to give back to the place where they felt a deep connection.

In reflecting on their stay in UAB’s Surgical Intensive Care Unit, Bean realized there were basic comforts and necessities many patient families often do not know they need until they begin to spend an extended time in the hospital. With that in mind, Bean and her daughters, Lilly and Olivia, then ages 6 and 3, respectively, came up with the idea to create “Bean Bags” in memory of their father and husband, Jeremy Bean.

“I had gotten so attached to this hospital and everyone here, and my one constant was coming to this place,” Bean said. “We just started making these bags, and it gave me a reason to come back; I felt good about coming back to UAB.

“After you have practically lived in a hospital, you realize there are so many other families who are literally living in waiting rooms, feeling helpless, not wanting to leave their loved one.”

Since 2012, the Bean family has created and donated more than 100 “Bean Bags” to UAB. The bags are full of items they needed during their time in the hospital. It is their way to pay it forward to other families on a similar journey.

“It’s got everything you may need from a comfy pillow and blanket to over-the-counter medicines, basic toiletries and pre-moistened wipes, to quarters to do laundry or get snacks from the vending machine, and even crossword puzzles,” Bean said. “What started as something that we wanted to do to give back has now gotten others in our community involved who want to contribute to the bags, too.”

Bean explained that, while these items seem basic, being able to brush your teeth or use a comfortable pillow can make you feel a little bit better when you are going through a challenging season. Even a simple crossword puzzle can take one’s mind off things for a few moments.

“Many may not realize it, but those additional basic comforts make all the difference in a person’s quality of life when they are in some ways living in a waiting room,” Bean shared. “During those last two weeks of Jeremy’s life, I didn’t want to leave my husband at all, and I benefited from the kind deeds and actions of others. This is how I can help give back.”

While creating “Bean Bags” has been a great way for Bean and her daughters to honor their late husband and father, their mission speaks volumes about finding positive ways to channel grief after the loss of a loved one.

“What healthier response to grief is there and what better way to spread meaning than to help other people and celebrate their person’s life,” said Wendy Walters, clinical ethics consultant at UAB Hospital, about the genesis of the “Bean Bags” and how the Bean family focused their grief. “When you lose somebody you love, you have the opportunity to figure out how to make meaning out of the loss and how to frame it positively. This is what being a part of a healthy society is all about – taking care of each other.”

Now six years after Jeremy’s death, the Bean family still hand-delivers “Bean Bags” stuffed to the brim to families at UAB with the help of Walters, who distributes them to units in the hospital that have a particular need.

The Bean family’s big takeaway? They are lucky to continue Jeremy’s legacy and to help others.

“We want to keep his memory going, and we think he would really like this,” Bean said. “If nothing else, I hope other patients take comfort from the bags and that, whenever they are in a position where they are in a better place, maybe they will want to give back and pay it forward.”

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