About a month after the funeral, Coralie told me she had talked to Joel’s wife, and had offered to take Joel’s t-shirts and make two quilts out of them, one for each of the children. Joel’s wife was so touched by the offer and she readily accepted. She gathered up bags full of the children’s dad’s t-shirts and gave them to Coralie. When Coralie told me about her project, I was trying to imagine how she would do it. I had never done this kind of quilt. I couldn’t picture how the t-shirts would be cut, how they could be assembled and how much work it would be.
Not many days later, I met with my own little group of quilting friends; we are four in number. I mentioned Coralie’s quilting project to them, and wondered aloud if we thought we might like to, and might be able to help Coralie. Everyone hopped on board very quickly! We love chances to quilt together; this project felt like it would be a great one to help with. So I asked Coralie if she would like some help and she was most grateful.
And so, it came to pass that this past Tuesday, we found ourselves gathered around my kitchen table sorting a young father’s t-shirts into two piles. One for his little girl’s quilt, and one for the quilt for his son. At first, the piles seemed overwhelming. But bit by bit, we figured out what the general design could be, what materials we needed to run out and get, and how to get organized.
By noon, we were well on our way, and at 4:49, Brenda called out, ‘Only one more seam to go!’ It was an amazing day.
I know the children will love their quilts. I imagine they will appreciate them more and more as they get older. It is so special that Coralie realized that they need a physical reminder of their Dad, and that she figured out how to create one.
I learned a couple of lessons on Tuesday. One was an old lesson; more a reminder to me. When someone is grieving, they often do not know exactly what it is they need. One thing we can do, is to offer to do something very specific. They can then choose to accept or not. This is what Coralie did. Joel’s grieving wife may never have thought of the idea of a quilt. But she most certainly would have had to deal with her husband’s clothing at some point. And she absolutely loved the idea when she heard it.
The second thing I learned is a bit less easy to state succinctly. I’ll give it a shot. Because I did not know Joel at all, as we sorted through the t-shirts, I was trying to get an image of him as a person, as a father, as a husband, as a fellow traveller. The only clues I had were literally the messages I could read on the t-shirts I had in front of me. I’m not convinced I had the whole story about Joel. I began to think about the things I lay in front of other people, about myself, that they will use to form ideas, stories really, about who I am. And I’m not convinced that they will know my whole story either.
With my slightly off-beat sense of humour, I could picture people sorting through my clothes, one black shirt at a time, and coming to the conclusion that I am extremely conservative, boring, clearly lacking creativity, and also, perhaps a bit depressed! Yikes!
The reality is, people can only know about us, what we show them. I know people can see the clothing I wear. And perhaps my clothing will never perfectly reflect myself, although I think I am improving in this area. But what I really hope is that people can see the other things I am wearing. Things that are so much more important to me than my clothing. I hope they can see me proudly wearing my love of family. I hope they see my passion for music, for song and dance – although I suspect many may not. I hope what I wear reflects the calm I feel when I am in nature, when I have an open sky above me.
I hope they notice me wearing my adventuresome side. And the side of me that might downplay things; things that are in fact close to my heart. I hope some of my clothes reflect my bravery, loyalty and acceptance. I hope I wear the ability to see several sides of an issue. I hope I wear some kind of safety clothing – not the kind that protects me, rather the kind that lets others know they are safe with me. I hope people see my silly wardrobe too.
I need to remind myself, that having all of these clothes hanging in my dark closet will do me no good. If I want to be known for these qualities, I need to not only have them in my closet, but I need to wear them regularly.
Each of us is creating the bits and pieces for our own quilt. No one piece of it will completely define us, but together it will tell our story. I’m going to start choosing my clothing carefully.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘How will this look on my quilt?’
Elizabeth is a certified professional Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership coaching. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. She has particular expertise in facilitating Strategic Plans for organizations. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to design your life quilt.