I first met my dear friend, Selena, on a windy, chilly, snowy day, a week before Christmas in 2010. She and her husband, Jeff, along with their two-year-old son, Alex, and members of their extended families, were standing on snow-covered icy ground near the front of a small rural cemetery.
When I got out of my car, my eyes went quickly to the tiny, grey casket perched on a wooden bier in front of a large hole dug in the earth. I'd never attended an infant funeral.
Mike stood next to Selena and Jeff, although I easily could have picked them out in a crowd, with grief molding their faces and eyes that were blank, allowing tears, not vision, to settle in and flow.
I stood to the side to let the family have full view and hear the prayers and words Mike would say to commit two, sweet little souls to God and their bodies to the earth. The twins, born at 23 weeks, survived a few days. Sean, the little boy, lived one day, his sister, Jillian, two.
Jeff and Selena birthed and lost the babies while they lived in Raleigh, North Carolina. A month later they moved to Indiana, wanting Sean and Jillian to be buried close by in their new town.
They knew no one in Indiana. However, God set to work an amazing series of events to bring them to a church in Fishers, that would envelop them with love and compassion. Their pastor in Raleigh knew Mike from when they attended the Duke Divinity School. He contacted Mike, describing Sean and Jillian's deaths. Mike set in motion through a series of emails and phone calls to arrange a few nights of meals, to assist with the early days of their arrival and following the funeral service.
Even the caretaker of the small cemetery was a member of the church. She quickly arranged a plot for the children to be buried.
Coping with Loss
Facing such deep grief and knowing few people, Selena turned to her long-time skill in quilting to companion her through those days and months of processing great loss.
She and Jeff were given all of the quilts that touched Sean and Jillian while they were in the hospital. Early in February, 2011, Selena decided to make two memory quilts, one for Sean and one for Jillian, to send to the hospital in Raleigh where they were born.
With her then three-year-old son, Alex, by her side, they found quilt shops in the Indianapolis area. Eventually she purchased the perfect fabric to honor her dear children. Planning the quilts and purchasing fabric, gave Selena structure and focus for her days.
Into the spring and summer, she sewed and quilted, finally finishing them in mid-fall, ready to mail to Raleigh in time for the first anniversary of their deaths, November 18. Before she packed the quilts, she asked the two pastors of the church, her Bible study group, and a few friends to pray over her handwork. The quilts were heavy with her grief, but also heavy with prayer from those who cared and loved her.
I asked Selena to describe her experience making the memory quilts.
"The hum of my sewing machine has always brought me a sense of peace. As a young girl, I'd play with my dolls at my mother's feet under the table while she sewed, hearing the monotonous hum of the needle piercing the fabric.
I grew up and discovered my love for sewing in particular, making beautiful quilts. Eight years ago, my husband and I lost our beloved son and daughter. At a time when I didn't want to get out of bed in the mornings, I knew I needed to honor them by living.
The hum of the machine once again brought me peace. At the hospital in Raleigh, we were given everything our children touched, including quilts, blankets and hats. I found comfort in these items because I was touching what they had last touched.
I decided to start making memory quilts in their honor to give the feeling of touch and warmth to other families. While I piece together bright, happy fabrics (because I know the personalities of my children are bright and happy in Heaven), I pray for each of them. I also pray for the baby girl who will receive my daughter's memory quilt and the baby boy who will receive my son's memory quilt, praying deep into the threads, breathing prayers into the batting, lovingly holding the fabrics as I lovingly held my own son and daughter.
I have made two quilts each year since their passing. I send them to a nurse who works in the NICU where Sean and Jillian received care. She, along with the staff, decide which family will receive the quilts each year. I know my children are resting in the arms of the Lord, proud of what their mother is doing, listening to the peaceful hum of the sewing machine."
For Your Reflection
1. How have you worked through times of deep grief and loss?
2. What ways help you touch those places of grief that seem endless, without words or form?
3. Can art (I consider quilting an art form.) become an avenue of expression, a picture of what wells from your heart?
Prayer: God, many times we plow through unbearable grief, similar to what Selena and Jeff experienced. Our loss may have a different nature, but deep grief is often without form. Thank you for Selena's gift of sewing that allows her to companion others who are going through difficult loss. May you bless each with love and prayers that are within every stitch and inch of fabric. Guide those who are in grief; lead them to a way through using a hobby or special interest so that their grief can come to a place of peace, glorifying you with gratitude as Selena has modeled. Amen.