|QUILTING AND GRIEVING|
|Here's an excellent site summarizing the many, quilt projects to commemmorate the World Trade Center Tragedy, and ways to help: www.yellow-ribbons.com|
When I started quilting 10 years ago, it was about creativity, fun---even ecstasy. I never expected this hobby to help me mourn deeply.
In the Spring of 2001, I completed the most difficult quilt I ever had to make. Technically, it was no problem. It was mostly sqaures and rectangles. But the squares were made from the clothing of a beautiful, articulate, brilliant and fiery 4-year-old girl going on thirty) named Rebecca, who died of cancer a year ago.
As a friend of her mother---and myself the mother of two young children---I I was profoundly shaken by her long illness and her cruel death. I could not imagine a way that her parents could heal---let alone me. It was with some reluctance that I volunteered to make a quilt from her clothing. I was afraid they'd think it was morbid---and that maybe it was. I was afraid they'd be offended. Most of all, I was afraid they'd say 'Yes."
Even then, I procrastinated starting for a long time. Holding a rotary cutter over a child's clothing felt like violence. I'd never been much of a praying person, but I had to light candles and say Kaddish at the beginning of the project---before I could cut her stained tee shirts and cute oshkosh overalls. Beginning was agony. Eventually, I was able to cut and sew without praying in advance.
During the project, I prayed and sang.. I also started talking to Rebecca, talking to my deceased ancestors, laughed (Rebecca was an incredibly funny kid), agonized, and most of all, listened to old movies and HGTV craft shows to distract myself---any way I could get through it. I asked her mother questions, which shaped the way I made the quilt, because I had not known Rebecca well. The more I knew about her, the easier it was to create the quilt.
There were even some strange moments when I experienced coincidences that made me wonder if I was in direct contact with ---well, let me just say that I found myself starting to believe in an afterlife.
There was , for example, the day when I was obsessed with butterflies. Rebecca loved butterflies. And it had become a metaphor, among some of her closest friends, for the transition she experienced---in the body as a caterpillar, to the spirit, as a butterfly. I thought it was a pretty metaphor, though I wasn't sure I believed in it. But I knew butterflies were important to the quilt. And I didn't have much butterfly fabric---only a half yard of a yucky brown.
So one day, while I was in the thick of making Rebecca's quilt, I was driving to school thinking, "Gotta get butterfly fabric, gotta get butterfly fabric."
I was a little early for pickup, so I stopped in at my my favorite Goodwill store . Occasionally, I find nice vintage aprons, neckties, and tableclothes and books there. I wandered over to where the old linens .
There, on a hanger I saw the most gorgeous, brand new, 2-yard piece of jewel-toned butterfly fabric (a Hoffman fabric) that you have ever seen in your life.
I started to shake. I looked skyward, but all i saw was fluorescent lighting.
Suffice it to say that this store does not carry a lot of beautiful, brand new quilting cotton. For $2, yet.
Afterlife and coinicidences notwithstanding, what was most important to me that this quilt became a tangible way to help Rebecca's parents.. It helped my friend, because she really had no idea what to do with her daughter's clothing. She couldn't throw it out. She couldn't even give it away. Giving it to me, with the knowledge that I would make it "permanent" , and allow her to keep the memories associated with each item, allowed her to move on a bit.
The quilt came out more beautiful than I could have imagined. Maybe it was the pink and lavender. That jewel tone butterfly fabric. Or something more.
Rebecca died in July of 2000. I finished the quilt a year later. Two months later came the terrorist attack on New York, with so many, many cruel, terrible deaths. So many family members who must grieve, and, eventually, even move on.
I don't know if any the New York families are there yet---but somewhere down the line, SOME of them may want quilts made from their loved one's clothing. When that time comes, they will need quilters who can really listen to what they have to say about their loved one, and to actually go throught he emotionally grueling (and technically boring---lots of iron-on interfacing required for knit fabrics) but infinintely spiritually rewarding process of turning clothing into precious memory quilts for the families.
It seems to me that this kind of project would not be a "mass proejct,' like making generic quilt squares, but would require one on one matching by grief counsellors, to select the families which would actually want a quilt like this, and match them with a quilter who is capable of balancing the emotional involvement and distancing needed to accomplish this. Extreme dependability would help, too.
When I gave Rebecca's parents their quilt, and when they thanked me, I finally---afte a year of agony, as I watched Rebecca die in slow motion, and watched their parents mourn---felt I had DONE something. I felt I had helped. I had memorialized her. I had lifted her parents burden in a tiny but real way. I had fought back , in a tiny way, against an inexplicable evil---in this case, cancer.
It's not much. But it is something.
If anyone needs any information or assistance about memory quilts---planning, technical issues (like interfacing), etc, please email me at AJWCJP@aol.com. I also invite you to send in your responses, and if they are of general interest, I will put them up here.