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expressing grief through quilting

If you have been following the blog, you know that I am a widow.  This past weekend the sailing community held the annual Bill Bennett memorial regatta in the etchells class where he was once a world champion.  I am not a sailor, but I am a quilter, so I make quilts every year for the winning team.  The etchells teams are usually 3-4 person teams.  I make 3 quilts and if there is a fourth, the fourth will get one later.  This year marks 5 years I have made quilts.  Each year is a different design and, looking back has been reflective of my grieving journey. 

Year 1 was all about the yearning to replace the physical in some tactile way.  When I heard the plans for a memorial regatta, I was in such pain and loneliness that I needed to release or express it in some way.  I also wanted to be a part of his sailing community, I needed connection.  When you lose someone so suddenly, the way I did, I needed something tactile.  This is one of the best descriptions of grief by Jaime Anderson:

Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot. All that unspent love gathers up in the corners of your eyes, the lump in your throat, and in that hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.

So, I expressed my pent-up love through fabric and whipped up three quilts and if a fourth was part of the team I would send one later.  The first quilt design was just fabric that I had previously purchased with no plan, just loved the fabric.  It makes sense that I was drawn to those fabrics and the design since I was expressing lost love in the quilt. The design was a simple bunting or nautical flag shape.  I whipped these out, with the help of a friend, in just a few weeks.  Year 1 was less about the design and more about expression and connection.  I didn’t know how the quilts would be received by the sailing fleet as I didn’t tell them as I wasn’t sure if I would finish.  To my surprise it became a cherished prize by the winning team.  A team made up of some of Billy’s beloved competitors, who got a mysterious wind shift to end up in first place.  I like to believe that was Billy influencing the outcome.

Year 2 had unexpressed anger that showed up as I was constructing the quilt.  The anger was reflective of hating to have to do things because of his death.  I was warned by many widows that year 2 was harder than year 1.  When I was in year 1, I couldn’t understand how year 2 could be worse.  Year 2 is all about abandonment in all forms.  Your couple friends don’t invite you over and your other friends think you should be over it.  What they are missing is that no only did you lose your husband, but your whole world shifted and you need to re-identify with who you are without your husband.  With everyone ditching you, you sink into further depression.  So, year 2 is my least favorite of the 5 quilts.  It was mostly grey with the traditional nautical colors thrown in.  I don’t really have a good picture of it. 

Year 3, marked the first year where I felt was I getting the hang of life again.  Wouldn’t you know the quilt was designed with the word LOVE expressed in nautical signal flags.  I was feeling proud of my life and what I was becoming without him. It was the year I truly began to fall back in love with life again. This year I really looked forward to the challenge of designing a quilt to be given to a team in a class of boat that Billy is known.  I also loved the praise coming from the sailing community with my designs.  If I had to describe where I was in the grief journey, I would say allowing joy to return to my life.  I couldn’t have designed this quilt in year 1 or 2.

Year 4 was my most creative and artistic.  I had just lost another job but was afforded the luxury of time to be able to figure out my next move.  That luxury turned into freedom to create, not only the quilt but would ultimately become my journey to create Souljym.  Year 4 is also reflective of transitions.  The lines of the quilt had both traditional blocks with nontraditional reflections of water.  It also had a bit of whimsy with Bill’s logo on the buoy. For those that don’t know, when Bill passed the sailing community created a logo that truly reflects him (how many people get a logo after they die?). That logo is a reflection of love that he was respected and beloved in his sport. It makes sense that this design was the most creative in my mind. Creating Souljym was something that is rooted in both traditional and nontraditional that when blended together creates something unique and inviting. It was only a few months after the quilt was completed that I began drafting the Souljym concept plan.

Year 5, given just a few days ago, was big and bold. The quilt blocks were bigger and the color choices were bolder and is reflective of me today in my journey. I am taking bold steps having made the decision to leave my corporate industry and dedicate myself to Souljym. My heart is full but if offered the chance to have that moment before he fell down those stairs back, I would take it in a heartbeat.

I am already festering ideas for year 6. These quilts have become a cherished prize (at least the competitors are kind of enough to say that). I get to share a hobby that I love with something that Billy loved. I am grateful to the sailing community to allow me to express my grief through these quilts ever year. Today they are a joy and a gift to myself and to the winners of the regatta. I think we all like the tactile experience a quilt provides.

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