For many of my friends 2017 has been a hard year. For one family in particular, it was one heartbreak after another. Justin’s dad dealt with a chronic illness for many years, but earlier this year his health declined quite rapidly. In early spring he passed away.
Losing his father at such a young age is unfair. Losing his father while he’s raising two young girls of his own is painful. Trying to grieve and continue with work and family – we all have to do it at some point but it’s just so hard.
Just a few short weeks later they got a call that Justin’s mom wasn’t feeling well and ended up going to the hospital. A seemingly innocent sickness suddenly took her life.
Losing one parent is unfair. Losing two within weeks of each other is cruel. How does one process their own grief while standing beside young children who are grieving too? How does one support a spouse grieving the loss of two parents while also finding space to grieve the loss of her own in-laws? It’s all too much to bear.
Death is hard to talk about, especially when it’s unexpected or sudden. In order to make themselves feel better, people will often come up with quips that they think make sense. Things like, “She died of a broken heart. She just wanted to be with him again.” In some cases this may be true. In Cindy’s case it was not.
Yes, of course, she was heartbroken. But she also had much to live for – three sons, two daughters-in-law and, maybe most importantly, four grandchildren. She had plans to travel with them. She expected to watch them grow, to be at their graduations, to celebrate life with them. Yes, she missed Jim, but she didn’t die of a broken heart. She died of an unexpected, unfair illness.
When the family was in town for Cindy’s funeral, I had breakfast with Sarah. She mentioned they needed to start cleaning out the house, including the closets. I suggested that she might want to save a few pieces of clothing from each of them. Not long after that I came home to two large trash bags full of clothes – one bag of Jim’s clothes and one bag of Cindy’s.
Sarah and Justin decided they wanted four quilts made – one for each grandchild. Since they are all young and not on social media and because I’ve already sent pictures of the quilts to Sarah, it’s safe for me to share these even though they are Christmas gifts!
I cut up all the clothes into 3” squares. I made sure to keep separate piles so that I remembered which was Jim’s and which was Cindy’s. I wanted an even distribution of their clothing among all the quilts. I then pulled those small squares together to create 9-patch blocks. When I had enough of those made, I used 24 9-patch blocks to create a lap quilt. There are a few blocks in each quilt that are full size (12” square) – handkerchiefs, larger shirt logos and each child’s first initial made from Jim’s jeans. I included logos from Jim’s hats and pocket’s from his jeans. I included Cindy’s Vera Bradley bag and her well-used robe.
I got to know their clothing quite well – to the point that it didn’t matter if the piles got mixed up. I knew whose was whose. I hope that these quilts provide comfort to the grandchildren. I hope the pillow for Justin and Sarah (that was originally supposed to be a surprise from me but was shared early!) is a safe place to hold the tears and offer the rest they need.
Losing parents so suddenly (and then a grandparent just a few months later) is devastating to a family. Everyone responds differently. It is my hope that these quilts will be one more step along the path of healing – the grief will never go away, but it will ease a bit over time. And, on those especially hard days, I hope they will wrap themselves in these quilts knowing that the love of their parents/grandparents will remain forever.