The idea came from my swimming pool mate, Sylvia. We see each other often in the pool at 24 Hour Fitness for our morning workouts. She is very thoughtful and frequently asks how I am doing with the loss of my wife, Susie. I lost my bride of 40 years to cancer three years ago.
I confessed to Sylvia that most of Susie’s clothing remained untouched and as she had left it when she passed. I explained to Sylvia Susie’s closet was still crammed full with all her blouses, pants, jackets and other personal clothing items. Her dresser draws were filled to capacity with socks, assorted items and a plethora of T-shirts. Susie was a collector of T-shirts. Every event, concert, city or venue we visited was not complete until we purchased her a souvenir T-shirt.
I realize a continual celebration of Susie’s life does not necessitate emotional clinging to her clothing. But this is a difficult task for me and my children and undertaking that many face when losing a loved one. I was definitely struggling.
Sylvia then explained a story of a friend who recently lost her husband. Her friend was struggling, as I was, as to what to do with her spouse's clothing. Sylvia covertly took the deceased husband's work shirts, T-shirts and other garments. She later surprised her grateful friend with a memory quilt filled with her friend's husband’s assorted clothing items.
I tossed the idea around for many months. Even after almost two years, I was hesitant and wasn’t sure I was emotionally ready to sort out Susie’s clothing. I finally decided that memory quilts from Susie’s abundant supply of T-shirts would make a memorable heirloom gift for my children and grandchildren for Christmas.
As an example of how God’s timing is always perfect, God introduced me to a nameless “Quilting Angel” shortly after I made the decision. The “Quilting Angel” asked that I not reveal her name. I met her last year at a fundraiser for the benefit of the Kern County Cancer Fund. She donated a beautiful “musically themed” quilt for the Media Music Jam at the Crystal Palace.
I approached her with Sylvia’s idea of a memory quilt and the “Quilting Angel” quickly saw this was going to be a difficult task for me. I remember her putting her hand on my shoulder and saying, “Let me know when you are ready. I would love to help.”
So in July of this year I began to sort through Susie’s vast volume of T-shirts, pajamas and other clothing. Because the quilts were to be a Christmas present for my children, I had to complete this task on my own.
I can’t tell you how many times I sat in my bedroom clinging to a T-shirt and talking to Susie as though she were still here. As difficult as it was, and although by myself, I never really felt alone but yet never felt so lonely. Going through Susie’s T-shirts was like going through a family photo album.
I took three cases of T-shirts to the “Quilting Angel,” who would make 11 memory quilts for my children and grandchildren. Three months later she invited me to her home to look at her completed artistry, and artistry it was.
She had them fully displayed in her living room. It was overwhelming. She left me alone with the quilts and gave time to be alone with my Susie memories. They were beautiful.
The last presents opened this year at Christmas were the memory quilts. I had all of my children and grandchildren open their gift at the same time. First there was a perplexed look, not sure what this was and as they unfolded the quilt, they simultaneously realized what they were. As I did in my bedroom three months earlier, each one held the quilt to their cheeks and tearfully remembered.
Since Susie has been gone, Christmas has been an emotional and sometimes difficult day for us all. We never get over it. We just get through it.
Thanks to my “Quilting Angel,” Susie’s memory quilts helped us all celebrate and remember in a special way this Christmas.
Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at email@example.com. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.