This Quilt Pattern Became a Source of Comfort in Her Grief

Her mother had passed without saying the three words she longed to hear. Would she find the connection longed for?

Posted in , Jul 23, 2021

Valerie and her mothers quilt; Photo credit: Michael A. Schwarz

”I’ve taken up quilting,” my mother announced proudly over the phone one day.

“That’s great, Mom,” I said.

My 70-year-old mother was undergoing chemotherapy for a malignant tumor on her appendix—the latest complication in an 18-year battle with cancer, a battle I knew she would someday lose. Maybe soon. It broke my heart for more reasons than one.

“I’m working on a quilt for your sister now,” she said. “Once I’m done, I’ll make one for you.”

“Thank you.”

She asked about the kids. We chatted about the weather. A little about my work as a nurse. Then we said our goodbyes. The conversation was short, polite and surface level, as always.

Mom and I had never had what you would call a warm relationship. We never hugged. Never said “I love you.” I didn’t know why. Nothing bad had ever come between us. We just weren’t close the way I was with my kids. For years, I’d longed to break down that wall and to hear those three words. I just didn’t know how to start. We’d been this way for as long as I could remember. Finally, I came up with the idea to schedule regular lunch dates together. Maybe by sharing a meal we might share more of ourselves.

Then the pandemic hit. Suddenly I was on the frontlines of the Covid battle. No way could I risk infecting Mom, especially with her compromised immune system. I settled for daily phone calls instead. It wasn’t quite the bonding experience I’d hoped for. She promised she was working on that quilt for me, though.

My quilt was Mom’s last one.

On a Thursday in June, I got the call from my dad. He was so upset that all I could understand were the words “She’s gone.”

In the weeks that followed, I was torn between thankfulness that she was no longer suffering and an overwhelming desire to see her again, to connect, as if the pandemic had robbed me of that chance. If we’d only had more time. If she’d only said, “I love you.”

A few months later, on a strange whim, I decided to give quilting a try myself. Who knows? Maybe I was still trying to connect with Mom. I drove to the craft store to pick out fabrics. Two gorgeous designs caught my eye. They just called to me. I bought them both. I also had a very specific pattern in mind. I could picture it. I combed through the pattern section but couldn’t find it anywhere. I guess I’ll just have to wing it.

I quickly learned that quilting was harder than it looked. I stabbed my fingers more than the fabric. I had to pull out my stitches and start over again a few times. Slowly, I got the hang of it, and eventually I completed several squares.

I thought about Mom a lot while I worked. What had drawn her to quilting so late in life? I imagined asking her for tips. Sometimes I’d picture us sitting together in the living room, our heads bent over our respective projects, conversation flowing between us.

Dad offered me Mom’s cutting board and wheel, as well as her quilting bag, filled with the extra fabric.

One night, I noticed I was running low on fabric. I hadn’t had a chance to go through Mom’s quilting bag yet, but maybe there was something that I could use. I reached in and pulled out six perfectly stitched blocks and caught my breath. It was the exact same fabric I had chosen—and in the same elusive pattern I’d envisioned when I “winged it.”

Yet something far more elusive had at last crystalized. Mom, in her own way, had finally said those three beautiful words I’d longed to hear.

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