“Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” — Psalm 23:6
I was honored once again to create the Hospice Memorial Quilt for McLean Home Care and Hospice in Simsbury, Connecticut. The following is a transcript of my presentation at the annual “Lights of Hope Celebration” before the unveiling of the quilt, which honors those who died in 2016:
For the most part, creating a quilt is solitary undertaking. I mostly work alone, though with the radio or television blaring so I don’t feel alone. It’s in my head where the design idea is formulated. It’s my heart where the love of quilting motivates my hands to cut, press, and stitch. And it’s my back that aches from sitting or standing too long at my various sewing machines.
A quilt like this, however, cannot possibly be created by one person alone. The 2016 Hospice Memorial Quilt took many heads, hearts, hands and aching backs to create. I would like to take a moment to thank all of those body parts!
First I thank all of you who took the time to design a fabric square to honor your loved one. I know it is not always an easy task to first think of the best way to honor a person on the surface of a 6-inch piece of cotton, and then to tap into your creativity in order to make it. I thank you for taking the time and for trusting me with your treasured personal memorial.
Next, I thank the staff here at McLean’s. I am in awe of this place. Those who aren’t familiar with the job of hospice, might think the work is done after the patient has passed on. The McLean’s staff does not limit the definition of Hospice in that way. Their work continues with the patients’ families and friends, caring for and honoring the tremendous grief which follows the loss. This annual ceremony and the quilt are just two of the many ways they continue the ministry of hospice. Thank you to Chris Novak for organizing all of the quilt blocks, the paperwork, the phone calls and much more. I am immensely grateful to only have to do the sewing because I can leave all the administration details to Chris. She is an incredible help to me. Thank you to Elizabeth Scheidel for her embroidery talents. If you look at all the quilts here, each year she stitches a poem to be worked into the quilt. Her beautifully stitched words inspire me and add so much feeling to the finished quilt. Thank you to Jeri Pease for helping many of you by creating the photographed blocks. Thank you to all the staff and volunteers here for their unending kindness and compassion.
Because my husband and I had a momentous family event happening this year – our daughter was married two weeks ago – I needed extra help from friends. I am not sure I could have completed the quilt this year if it wasn’t for the help of good friends. Thank you to Carol Blouin, Kathy Kurtich, and Nancy Burch, who helped me to sew together the blocks. Thank you to Mary Watt, proprietor of the Quilted Ewe in New Hartord, who donated space in her teaching studio for us to work. Thank you to Maria Gerard who attached the binding – mostly a hand sewing job! In the bible, in the Book of Sirach (6:14-15), it says, “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure. There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend, and no scales can measure his excellence.” I have been blessed to experience this over and over again with my wonderful friends. I am very grateful – Thank You!
Finally, I would like to thank my husband, Ted, for all of his support for this quilting ministry. I could not do this work without his willingness to pitch in on cooking, cleaning, shopping, laundry, etc. And, of course, he also pays the bills. Mostly, I am very grateful for his understanding of the passion I have for quilting and for my desire to use my skills to help others. In all honesty, these quilts would not happen if it were not for my husband’s love for me.
For me, it’s apropos this ceremony is held in November. I lost my dad and my infant daughter in the month of November. I also lost a very close friend – we were practically inseparable when quilting was involved – whose birthday was in November. Each year when this month is rolling around, I tell myself it’s just another month and it shouldn’t bring on more sadness than any other month of the year. However, it happens. It could be just the feel of a gentle November breeze or seeing the way the last few maple leaves cling to swaying branches that trigger a memory. Sometimes it’s election day because one of my last memories of my father was him watching election results in 1970 on our new, and first, color TV. Whatever the triggers, it’s difficult to avoid the more intense memories of those we lost during the season of their death. Maybe you have experienced this at the times of the year of your loss?
I like to think of these memory triggers as a lasting gift from those we lost. It’s like a tap on the shoulder from my dad saying, “enjoy each day to the fullest,” a kiss on my cheek from my daughter saying, “I’m proud of you, Mom” or a gentle push from my friend saying, “keep on quilting!” Though their physical beings have left me, their enduring spirits continue to shake me from complacency. These are the kinds of things I ponder while working with your quilt blocks, and these particular thoughts inspired this year’s poem.
Though I tried to resist it, writing a poem for the quilt’s unveiling has become a tradition. I thought the first few were a fluke, but now I guess it’s just meant to be. The verses just seem to come to me when I’m working on the quilt. Often, when I’m making the hospice memorial quilt, I have what seem like “memories,” but they are not mine. I get pictures in my mind of regular people in ordinary places, and yet I feel strongly their impact on those they love is neither regular nor ordinary. These visions and thoughts could easily be explained due to all the romance novels I’ve read or the countless classic movies I so enjoy, but I sometimes wonder if these “memories,” which I include in my memorial poems, could belong to some of you?
I Will Never Forget
I hadn’t thought of you in a while.
It must have been half a day,
Since I saw your beautiful face
In my mind, where memories lay.
It startled me a bit
To realize it had been that long
Since something had reminded me
And brought your presence so very strong.
I see you at the local park
Where we would take our walks.
We enjoyed the nature all around us
Enhancing our wonderful talks.
I often see you in the kitchen
Creating your famous stew.
You’d make enough for an army
So the neighbors came to enjoy it, too.
Sometimes I see you at the garden’s gate
Inviting me to enter
To sniff the latest fragrant blooms,
The ones you planted before last winter.
So you see those few hours
When you weren’t present in my brain
Was clearly a rare event
For reasons I can’t explain.
Your gifts to me were numerous
And being with you was such a treat
That thoughts of you still lift me
And make my days complete.
One day I’ll see you at another gate,
But that time is not quite yet.
Until then I promise you –
All we had in life, I will never forget.
Dorothy J. Szypulski
Lights of Hope Celebration
November 14, 2017