The Healing Gift

She had long worked to comfort strangers; now someone else provided comfort to her father.

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A collection of knitting needles and multi-colored skeins of yarn

Our knitting group sat around the church lounge, chatting casually as we worked. One woman used soft yellow yarn, making stitches that looked like honeycombs. Another checked the pattern for an intricately designed baby blanket.

A handful of ladies worked on prayer shawls, small blankets that would be donated to hospitals and other health-care facilities where people needed a little extra warmth and comfort. A reminder that God was with them.

“Are you making a prayer shawl?” my friend asked. I nodded. “This one’s for donation,” I said, proudly holding up my project. I loved the idea that someone I didn’t even know might find some small comfort in something I had a hand in.

I’d donated shawls before. I’d also made them for friends and family. But these days, I was really knitting for myself more than anything else. My dad was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and it took a toll on my mom and our entire family as well.

Each time I accompanied my parents to the doctor, we heard grim news: Dad was getting worse. Mom and I had discussed the possibility of putting Dad in a nursing home, but it was such a painful prospect.

Alzheimer’s had already isolated him from Mom and our family. It was hard to think of him separated from his home too, without anyone to comfort him. I was glad that I had my knitting. The movement of the needles and the feel of the yarn brought me some of the peace I so desperately needed.

I’d first taken up knitting to stay busy while my husband was deployed overseas. Supplies for scrapbooking, calligraphy and painting filled the craft-store shelves, but I made a beeline for the fiber-arts department.

As a child I loved watching my mother and great-aunt transform ordinary balls of yarn into blankets and sweaters. I started making dish towels, then baby blankets. I became a regular at the knitting group. That’s where I learned about prayer shawls.

“Almost finished,” I said as I completed another row of stitches. It was great to have somewhere to donate my work. I can knit to my heart’s content with nothing wasted, I thought as I packed up for the day.

One morning the phone rang. It was Mom. “I took your father to the emergency room last night,” she said. “I think he had an allergic reaction.”

Not something else, Lord!

Dad’s allergic reaction cleared up fast, but later that afternoon we knew something still wasn’t right. “We think the medication had some bad side effects,” the doctor said. “We’d like to admit him to a hospital unit for further evaluation.”

This wasn’t what we were expecting. Upon his release from the hospital, Dad was transferred to a nursing home for rehabilitation. A nursing home. It was happening. Mom and I had one another to lean on, but I couldn’t imagine what Dad was feeling. It had gotten so hard to communicate with him.

God, please find a way to comfort him.

Cheerful staff welcomed us as Mom and I walked Dad down the hallway of the nursing home. We listened to doctors and nurses explain the facility policies. I kept my composure as we said good-bye to Dad, but at home I broke down. God, be with Dad when I can’t be.

Before bed that night I finished the shawl I’d been working on. I repeated the prayer I’d said when I began: Thank you for allowing my hands to do your work. Please let the recipient feel your comfort and grace. I wasn’t feeling much comfort.

I went to visit Dad at the nursing home the next day. On the chair by his bed was a reddish-brown throw blanket. I knew it wasn’t Dad’s. I took it to the nurse’s aide. “This doesn’t belong to my dad,” I said.

“Oh, yes, that’s for him,” she replied. “It’s a prayer shawl. Volunteers make them for our new residents.”

Someone made this for Dad, I thought. To bring him comfort. Back in his room, I spread the shawl over my father’s lap. All this time I’d hoped my prayer shawls would make a difference for someone in need. I never understood how good it felt to receive one.

All that prayer, hope and love, woven together by a stranger proved without a doubt that God was here with Dad. God and angels would comfort him, one stitch at a time. And in so doing, they would be a comfort to me.

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