Early summer of 2014, a friend shared with me that her good friend’s husband died. After going to visit her, my friend came to me with a bag full of shirts asking if I’d make a quilt out of them. After the craziness of moving out of my house, buying our new house and moving in, I finally had the time to start working on this quilt later that fall. I don’t know the full story, nor do I need to know. The small bit I had learned was all I needed to know – Rob found life to be too hard and the only thing he knew do it was to leave it behind. For some reason, a reason sometimes hard for outsiders to understand, death was easier than life.
So, here I was with a stack of shirts, some of them worn very thin. When I had done t-shirt quilts in the past, they were shirts full of logos and text and pictures. This one was different – they were mostly plain, some checkers, a couple images, but the majority were single colored shirts. This quilt had to be different than my usual style. I decided to cut them into smaller squares – 5” squares rather than the usual 12”. After cutting down the shirts, I was able to patchwork them together into the larger squares I was used to working with. There were a few concert t-shirts with larger images that I was then able to incorporate into the quilt.
I found that I really liked his style. He chose clothing that, although simple, would last a long time. Good quality t-shirts. I liked the muted colors too – blues, greens, reds. They all went together so well. I imagined him wearing the blue t-shirt under the blue and green-checkered short-sleeve button up. I had never met this man or his wife. All I knew were their names – Meg and Rob. And yet, I found myself entering into their lives. What was it like for her to go through his shirts? Did she pick the ones he wore often or the ones she wished he wore more often? Was she angry or sad? Probably both, I imagine.
Meg didn’t want a rag quilt – that was my go-to style, what I knew how to do. She wanted a more traditional quilt with the seams going inward. I could do that but then how would I secure the quilt? I knew I couldn’t quilt it – t-shirts are too stretchy, it would be a disaster trying to quilt (for me – I know some people are able to do this very well!). I remembered a method I had used on a tie quilt once before – knotting. This is a traditional quilting method – use embroidery thread to tie knots all over the quilt therefore securing the top, batting and back together.
Once I started wrapping up her quilt, I realized there was still a lot of material left. We talked and Meg asked me to make another one for Rob’s parents. I had a few larger squares remaining that I hadn’t used yet and then piles and piles of scraps. Referring back to that tie quilt again (I will probably write a post on that one too!), I used a technique called string piecing. I was able to use long strips of fabric to create diagonal quilt squares. This style combined with plain 12” squares gave the quilt a vibrant look.
I thought about his parents. Did they know he was suffering? Did anyone know? Mental illness is so hard. The stigma our society places on those who suffer with mental illness makes the suffering even worse. I have been close, close to a place where I thought there was no other solution. To a place where I didn’t know if I’d ever be happy again. To a place where speaking didn’t seem to work so I just stopped. To a place where I ran out of tears because I cried so much. Life is hard and there are times when it seems too hard, too much. I don’t know what was the last straw for Rob, but I know he’s not alone, unfortunately. Every day it is estimated that over 100 people commit suicide. That doesn’t include all the others that tried but didn’t succeed.
It’s been over two years since Rob left. I trust that Meg and his parents have moved forward – not in a way that forgets, but in a way that keeps them remembering. I don’t know if these quilts are on the back of the couch for them to see daily, or if they are put away only to look at on certain days. I hope that the quilts bring comfort, but I imagine some days they bring pain. I do know that Meg hasn’t let her heart harden. In fact, she has a very loving heart, from what I can tell. She’s the one who sent me Javi’s clothes. She’s the one that knew how to honor his life and support his parents.
One of these days I’d love to hear from Meg because she has another quilt she wants made – one not because of death but because of life. But then, when I think about it, all the quilts I’ve made for her so far are about life – they are seeped in life. It might be said these lives ended too early, but they were beautiful lives nonetheless. Length doesn’t change the value or the impact. I am grateful for Meg’s trust in me, for the opportunity to remember a man I never met, to honor his life in a way he couldn’t.
Rob, we remember you.