Monday, 28 January 2013

My life in quilts - grief

A while ago I posted about my quilts telling the story of my life, they remind me of when I was making them, they retain the memory of my life at that point.

I have been trying to find the starting point for a series of blogs about the quilts, and the memories they represent, more for me than anything else.... but I have struggled with the most important quilt.... I didn't know how to include it until yesterday..

Yesterday I watched a beautiful film called Delicacy, a French movie with the simply gorgeous Audrey Tautou. It is about love, loss and grief. I enjoyed watching it, but it prompted me to think about grief and how it affected me...

So I am going to bite the bullet and start my series with the quilt that represents a period of extreme sadness and loss. A time that still affects me... it is the hardest quilt to write about!

I made this quilt in the 3 months following the death of my mother.

It represents the important things about her life, the things she loved and the illness that took her away..

My mum was a force of nature, she was fiercely bright, strong and determined. I have never met anyone like her and I doubt I ever will!  She was that person who got straight A's in a blink of an eye. She was funny - a joint friend tells me stories about the things she used to get up to... totally crazy!

You see I didn't know my mum as an adult. When I was 18 she was diagnosed with cancer, which she fought and won. But it revealed something much worse - early onset Alzheimer's. She was 48 when she got cancer and 51 when we finally got someone to diagnose Alzheimer's - they all said she was too young...

Just when I was reaching adulthood, she was sinking into the black hole that is Alzheimer's. We watched as a family, we watched her drifting away for 10 years, we watched her memory and finally her body fail her.

This kind of grief is like being tied to a train track and watching the train coming straight for you... you know for years that it is coming, you think you will be prepared, but it still hits you like a train and carries into places you never knew existed before...

In those first few weeks after she died I set to work making a quilt to remember her life by, it gave me something to focus on.

It is broken into sections. On the left is a panel of gold Ginkgo Leaves floating on a red background. Ginkgo represents memory - a reminder of the illness that took her.

She loved the colour red and she loved roses, so I put a panel of hand sewn roses. They start at the bud - the start of life - and finish in full bloom.

During the course of her life she had travelled to Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. Japan stayed with her, she loved the people. So I put her name in Japanese onto the quilt using some black fabric.

The quilting was really minimal. In fact I only quilted 2 things...

My mum was a mathematician, she loved maths - it was beautiful to her!

So I quilted her favourite mathematical constants into the quilt: Pi and natural logarithm e...

I think she would have approved!

Part of the Let's Get Acquainted Monday link up on Plum and June

Plum and June


  1. That is so beautiful a story, Anna, thank you so much for sharing it. I was 32 when I lost my mother, she collapsed in May, was diagnosed with massive, inoperable brain tumours, and died at the end of August. In between, this articulate, voluble, witty woman lost the power of speech, due to the tumour's pressure on her speech centre, but her etyes continued to speak just as eloquently of the the vibrant mind that was still trapped inside. The reverse experience of yours, but just as devastating. I'm sure, like me, you still go to reach for the phone, so as to share some little moment of life with her - in my case after 34 years! It's a wonderful way to memorialise your mother, and a privilege to have shared it.

    1. Thank you. My mum clung on until she had met my middle son who was due just as she got really poorly. It has been 7 years and I still have conversations in my head with her. Mostly about her grandsons who are mathematicians like her!

  2. I can imagine this was quite a difficult post to write Anna, but your story and the quilt are amazing. My mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer last summer - she's 'only' 62 (and apparently the cancer she's got mostly effects men in their 80, which kinda sucks!). I made her a 'hug' quilt last year as I can't always be with her and it's comforting to think there's a bit of me with her all the time. Sx

    1. I am so sorry for the diagnosis. Another one of my quilts is one I made to comfort my mum whilst she was ill. She had it with her up until the end and it is a comfort to me that I kept her warm in her last few days.

  3. Sew very beautiful and a touching tribute to your mother. Thanks for shaing your memories and quilt ... Pat

    1. Thank you. I think she would have liked it. x

  4. My dad passed away when I was 14 from a sudden, massive MI. Despite it being 11 years later, I still think about what he'd say to me regarding what I'm up to. I've never made a memory quilt in his honor since it never seemed quite right, but we have launched rockets on his birthday because we went to model rocket nationals yearly.

    I also like hearing about female mathematicians, my first bachelor's degree was math and econ with a concentration in applied statistics. I was a medical statistician before going back to school to become a neurotrauma nurse.

  5. I think about what she would say to me too. She was a maths genius! Luckily my three sons have inherited her maths gene!