Craftiness, baking and other lovely things.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

31 shirts and talking to children about death

In the summer, I sat on the steps of my beach hut under a gloriously blue sky, listening to the gentle sound of the incoming tide and talking with my friends about what the terminally ill father could gift to the family he would leave behind on death, to give them something tangible to hold onto, something that would help them remember him.  It wasn't a sad conversation, at least not for my brave friends; more a practical discussion of the possibilities.  I mentioned that memory quilts were worth considering, especially as Dave was a great wearer of shirts of all patterns and colours.  They liked the idea, although Ange did say it would definitely be something that I'd have to make, she having no sewing skills beyond button fixing.

Last Saturday I collected 31 shirts.  Dave was in the hospice, at the very end stage of end stage cancer.  He was expected to pass within days.  Ange knew he would not be wearing those shirts again and she had decided that she'd like to use the memory quilt, or memory blanket as we were calling it, to lay it over his coffin and then bring it home to comfort her and the children.

I took apart, cut up and sewed for 5 days.  The finished blanket had to retain the 'shirtness' of each shirt, rather than being made up of identically sized, neat little squares, arranged in an organised pattern.  Rather it had to include all the little details that made each shirt special: the contrast stitching; the crazy lining fabric; buttons stitched onto velvet ribbon.  The pieces had to be large where the pattern was large.  I pieced it blindly from piles of squares and strips of fabric.  I had enough fabric from those 31 shirts to make a double sided blanket.  It was huge.  It was beautiful.

Making that blanket was an unexpected experience.  Cutting fabric is usually boring, but not this time.  The whole process was almost meditative.  Whilst my hands were cuting, smoothing, stitching, my mind wandered and I remembered that day, and other days, on the beach with Dave and his family.  Parties we'd been to, conversations we'd had, cups of tea we'd drunk together.  It was an honour to be trusted with such precious fabric and I know that the finished blanket will be treasured.  I left the blanket with Ange's mum who laid it on her bed so that it was there when she got home late that night from the hospice.

The next morning, yesterday, at 6am, Dave - who hugged better than anyone else I've ever been hugged by - passed from this world.  Ange asked that friends meet in the evening to celebrate his life and send some fireworks up to heaven.

I didn't know how to tell my children why we going there.  They knew that Dave was ill.  But how could I tell them that someone they knew, their friends' dad, was dead?  In the end, it was my husband who told the older two in a very straightforward way.  We decided that Issie, aged 6, didn't need to know.  I wish now that I had joined my husband to tell them, even though I know I would have cried.  Grief should not be invisible and I realise now that I had the chance to show my children that, to show them that crying is okay.  The children took it in the same straightforward manner they were told.  They enjoyed the fireworks and had a great time running around with the other children.  It was a fitting celebration of the life of the man who was called a friend by many, many people.

As we were leaving, I hugged Ange and she thanked me again for the blanket.  "Dave would have been proud," she said.  Bless you, Dave Stocker.  You will be missed.

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