to Capture a Heart

Some of my favorite quilts tell a story. They capture a moment of joy or pain or expectation. They bottle that feeling with color or shape or clearly distilled memories of time spent processing emotions, cloth in hand.

On the train this weekend with two special friends, we talked about how quilts do this magic. I was reminded of several quilts I made during the life of my daughter Eleni. Today I want to string together some quilts that tell our story - hers and mine. May these emotional touchstones remind us of the power of art to connect us, reveal us and capture our stories.

You’ll see this tale begins and ends with the very same quilt.


February 18, 2015

making Hearts

As of Thursday morning, I’ll be 38 weeks pregnant. I actually love giving birth, and I think I’m better prepared than ever this time to enjoy it.
Making hearts.jpg
Today I made hearts. Now they will wait to be hand sewn postpartum. When I get the itch to play with fabric, I can MAKE from my bed or the sofa, baby and all my resting necessities close at hand.

March 3, 2015

Eleni’s Birth

Eleni was born 5 lbs, 11 oz, slightly on the small side for my babies and her 39+ weeks gestation. Although the cord blood was well oxygenated, she has suffered from oxygen deprivation, cause unknown. Eleni has remained neurologically unresponsive since birth, though she is breathing with minimal assistance now and her other organs are doing mostly well. Obviously the situation is very grave. The coming days and weeks will hold... I don’t know what. It is emotionally overwhelming, physically taxing and beyond comprehension.

March 18, 2015

in the evenings

I started joining these about a week before Eleni was born, and I have only a few rows left to join, actually.

Like any project or plan or item of clothing that I experienced during my pregnancy, I am often struck as I come across it again, confronted and disoriented with the strange reality that my baby was just fine, totally fine at that time. These touchstones are a time capsule of our life before. How quickly and mysteriously life does change.
Unfinished crochet. Stitched in Color.jpg
My heart has been quite busy processing lately. There are many stages of grief, but the most difficult one for me was when my mind kept fighting to find a way out, a way to fix things, a way to somehow make things OK.

I am a fighter. I would to do anything. And even though I hope so much for Eleni’s healing, I cannot make sure it happens. I cannot secure her a healthy body in the future. And I certainly cannot go back in time to fix this.

Ice Parfait top. Stitched in Color.jpg
As you can see, I kept the long coral slash of color. I kept it for several reasons. It’s unexpected, which felt good. Also it vaguely reflects how I feel about life these days. When the unexpected makes a big, unforgettable appearance in your life, that dramatic slash doesn’t have to “ruin” things. It can, perhaps become part of your beautiful story?

Perhaps. I am working to see that.

June 8, 2015

Flowers for Eleni

It arrived on Friday, a big squishy package from my dear friend, Jodi. Over the weekend I waited for the right moment to open it. To tell you the truth, I was scared. I know these Flowers for Eleni are full of So Much Love, but they also bring me back to the initial, staggering loss. I was afraid that having the quilt here would somehow hurt more.
Flowers for Eleni. Stitched in Color.jpg
On Sunday afternoon I gathered myself and slowly opened the quilt. And I think it was just the right moment. I realized that your quilt reminds me of how I must accept this painful part of my life.

I must look for the beauty in it, for the flowers, for the love that comes round the world and ultimately from the Father.

July 1, 2015

Eleni, 4 months

Eleni is 4 months old. It’s odd how time contorts under pressure. It seems like so much more than 4 months of trauma - the shock, the worry, the tears painfully stretching towards hope. It seems like so much less than 4 months of her babyhood - the cuddles, the lullabies and morning walks. I’m sure, in part, that’s because she hasn’t really been with us, peacefully at home so very much. In fact, this month she was hospitalized for a full week.
Eleni at 4 months. Stitched in Color.jpg
This is my baby girl. She’s sweet, content, generally a good sleeper despite her apnea. She’s still fed breastmilk exclusively via g-tube, but she’s growing well and her tummy handles the feeds well. She likes be rocked, being sung to. She likes her ABM neuromovement lessons. She does not like car rides. In fact, I think she gets car sick!

And, I guess, most of all she likes me? She does. But it is hard for me to feel that sometimes, especially on nights when her apnea chases away sleep for 5 1/2 hours or after days strung together without eye contact, never a smile.

December 2, 2015

Tipsy

My intention was to work in a moody palette with dusky purples, lots of somber grays, dull browns and sharp black.
Tipsy quilt.jpg
But I let in more sunshine that I expected! The yellow really stands out among all those urban tones. I am definitely happy with the finished color mix, but the upbeat finish took me by surprise. Maybe the lesson here is that a little bit of joy can go a long way.

December 22, 2015

big brother + sister

I think I’m getting used to Eleni’s poor prognosis, but I believe it is just coming into focus for Aria and Liam.

Aria doesn’t imagine any longer that Eleni will do school or learn to knit or join her in Tae Kwon Do. She often comes into the nursery to ask, “How is Eleni doing?” She craves a positive response, which I’m often unable to give.

On the one hand she chooses to offer to hold Eleni. She chooses to be a good big sister, to help. On the other hand holding Eleni is often a scary and stressful experience (even for a grown up), so she gets that trapped look in her eyes after holding her for about 5 minutes. In those moments I know that Aria comprehends the tragedy that’s been dealt our beautiful baby.

The other day it was just the two of us, Aria asking probing questions as she often will. And I felt it the right moment to tell her that Eleni may not learn to talk. Little doses of pain. Little doses of loss. She is a strong, smart girl with a good heart. I hope it is not too much for her.
big brother and sister. Stitched in Color.jpg
And Liam, he is just starting to grieve. For most of Eleni’s life he has been the one who could enjoy her most. In his innocence he didn’t see her injury so much as the rest of us. He was able to hold her and smile and coo. He still does.

But, he’s also learned why we are grieving. He sees it in our friend’s baby who can play with toys and crawl and smile. He doesn’t share his grief with me, to protect me, but he shares it with his friends at times. He loves our baby so very, very much. I don’t want him to know. I so wish I could protect him from the truth.

January 19, 2016

Eleni’s passing

On January 18th, 2016 sweet Eleni passed away at home in the arms of her father and surrounded by some of our dear ones who celebrated her arrival a year before.

We are both tear stricken and joyful; crushed and lightened, for our child that suffered so much in 10 short months is now completely free from pain and struggle and fear and even from those limitations that so unfairly bound her.

I imagine right now she is learning to roll over to her tummy, and she is amazed how easy it is to lift her head and look about. Surely she’ll recall when she sucks and swallows with her own dear mouth that this is what mom was trying to show her, this is what we all wanted for her with all our hearts. And what is to come for her is better than we could ever offer her on this earth. She will grow into the fullness of the human she was meant to be. And I will know her again. And I will see her smile.

March 14, 2016

Doodle Doodle

Sudden Change. Stitched in Color.jpg
Satisfactions: My favorite inspiration was to contrast the white/pale gray half square triangles at top left with a flock of dark gray/black half square triangles at top right. I like how light and dark come together in a hard line. The clouds really can roll in so fast. A storm. A downpour and we’re soaking, until suddenly that too is gone.
Doodle Doodle. Stitched in Color.jpg
Dissatisfactions: I’m fairly dissatisfied with my failure to enjoy the making of this quilt. I started piecing when Eleni was doing very well, post surgery on one of my work days apart from her. I wish I was with her that day. All of the rest of the quilt was made soon after her death. Probably making something so personal, so emotional couldn’t be very enjoyable in that time of my life. Of course, that doesn’t mean it was not an important thing to do.

How do you know when to stop? When to stop trying? When to stop pushing? When to resist adding another line of quilting? We hope to arrive at a sense of completeness, and often we do. But, the wherefore and why is elusive, mysterious.
hand quilted. Stitched in Color.jpg
Over the past two months I have been hand quilting this petite quilt, my Brokenfull Heart. I relished it, not wanting to sense the end. If I could quilt and quilt and quilt so long, my heart might mend in the process. I had a sense, a very quiet sense, that this quilt was for Eleni, in some way, but that I would not keep it. I would let it go. I would make it almost as pretty as she was and send it off to belong to some other little girl. And that would be good, truly good to my soul.
Brokenfull Heart. Stitched in Color.jpg
As with my Eleni, I gave my very best to this quilt - my best fabrics, my creative heart and much time. When we give our best we can keep living no matter what happens. We can love ourselves and accept peace, because our best is all we can ever be meant to give.

August 26, 2016

Recycled Hearts

I only made one quilt for Eleni. Though I never did finish it. Part of my grieving is to deal with Eleni’s heart quilt. It doesn’t belong in a drawer testifying to what wasn’t and never-will-be. I want to give it a life, and not one that is for this new baby I’m having, but rather one that is for Eleni still.

Somehow, still for Eleni.
Recycled hearts. Stitched in Color.jpg
So, I’ve decided to tear it apart. I’m separating out the hearts and making quilts to donate to the NICU that kept Eleni. When she was there the nurses would wrap a quilt around her mattress, instead of a sheet, to make her bed slightly more homey. I’m sure they could use a few fresh ones.

Eleni is already giving many things to her younger sister - clothes, blankets, toys and bottles. These hearts she’ll give to other babies experiencing a harder start to life than they deserve. Babies that may not ever be “all right.” I think she’d be pleased.

October 10, 2016

I Heart You

It was about this time in my last pregnancy that I took it into my head to make baby-to-be a heart quilt. I remember smiling over the post title, “I Heart You” which was doubly true – hearts for her and for you, dear reader, as we neared Valentine’s Day, 2015. So much has happened since then, so much changed, but this is still true:

I love.
Rainbow Log Cabin Heart quilt. Stitched in Color.jpg
Meadow full of Heart. Stitched in Color.jpg
Yesterday we had some friends over to play in the beautiful autumn weather. I roped the kids into helping me photograph my NICU series before the quilts are donated.

And so our hearts are full, healthy and healing one stitch, one day at at time.
Stack of Heart quilts. Stitched in Color.jpg