13: Knit Together

13: Knit Together

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

Knit Together

While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.

~John Taylor

I picked up Louisa almost every Friday morning on the way to our favorite hangout: a local yarn and coffee shop on the west side of town. Seated by the fireplace and surrounded by shelves of yarns in countless colors, we knitted chunky wool hats for our husbands, soft blankies for the newest additions to our families, and scarves, shawls, or mittens for ourselves. We dined on the shop’s hearty sandwiches, creamy soups, and smooth homemade chocolates. And we talked for hours.

How quickly time passed in this warm environment and in the midst of our projects. How quickly it passed in the company of a good friend.

I would help Louisa with her coat. I picked up her knitting bag. I crooked my arm, and she took hold. It was a slow, careful walk to the car.

Louisa had been just two years old when her parents sensed something was wrong. She didn’t play like other kids. Instead, Louisa was hesitant, wary, and visibly in pain on the playground. So began her lifelong struggle with rheumatoid arthritis, its crippling effects, and all the medical vulnerabilities that often come with the disease.

Despite constant aching, daily fistfuls of pills, and a rigorous regimen of physical therapy, Louisa was determined to live a “normal” life—and keep up with the high demand for her knittables. She seemed to have something prepared for almost every special occasion—baby showers, engagement parties, weddings, and the like—and countless friends, family, and mere acquaintances laid claim to Louisa’s handmade creations.

The tradition came to a sudden end when, one gray afternoon in March, “pins and needles” penetrated and pricked the entire right side of Louisa’s body. She could barely move once the paramedics arrived. Two months later, pneumonia set in, and I stood vigil at Louisa’s bedside stroking her hand as my tears dropped in splotches on her bed sheets. The heart monitor’s waves peaked, then rippled, then stilled. The doctor confirmed the grim news to those of us gathered around her.

Louisa was gone.

Though I saw it happen and heard the doctor’s words, the reality seeped slowly into my consciousness. Though I knew I must one day face the pain of my own grief, I did what I could to help prepare for the funeral and to surround her husband, Joe, with the support he needed.

I offered my insight into her most treasured Bible verses and other passages and songs to include in her memorial service. I browsed her closet for potential burial clothes, remembering with others Louisa’s favorite colors, patterns, and textures. I arranged for meals and rides and practicalities of all kinds, but it was with my best tender care that I searched Louisa’s overflowing baskets and tote bags for her most impressive knittables to display at the funeral.

During my hunt, I found many completed projects. A sunshine-bright top-knotted baby hat. Dishcloths shaped like daisies, snow-flakes, and stars. A scarf. But also among those treasures were even more projects waiting to take final form.

I took special notice of the earthy speckled socks she began for Joe last winter. Louisa had hoped to give them to him for Christmas last year, but the busyness of the holidays interrupted her plans. She had decided instead to give them to him for his birthday, but she didn’t have time for that either. Louisa and I had made light of the delayed sock project just a few weeks before she died, my last memory of our knitting together.

With my mind caught up in bittersweet memories and my vision clouded by tears, I turned to Joe. “If you think it would be okay, I’d like to finish these for her someday.”

That promise to Joe was a lifeline to which I clung every day thereafter. It’s true that, in finishing those socks, I would eventually present Joe with a very special gift—and I felt good about that. But, deep inside me, I knew that finishing those socks would somehow help me cope with the loss of my friend—it would help me like nothing else could.

Several months passed before I gained the courage to make good on my promise. I dialed the number, cleared my throat, and hesitantly asked to stop by for Louisa’s unfinished projects. A couple of days later, Joe greeted me at his door and pointed to the sofa, barely visible beneath Louisa’s knitting supplies. After making sure I had all the necessary needles and notions, I loaded my trunk, headed home, and transferred the cargo to my own living room. My first assignment? To finish those socks.

I studied the pattern, arranged the needles just so, and fingered the coarse yarn. Louisa’s work lay before me like a diary documenting both the celebrations and sorrows of her last months of life. As I twirled the one fully finished sock above my lap, I noticed its perfectly proportioned shape and the careful consistent stitches—how they reminded me of the harmonious and happy days that Louisa once enjoyed. But my attention then turned to the second sock, not only unfinished, but riddled with errors—signs of her increasing weariness toward the end.

Though reluctant, I knew I had no choice. I had to pick up the good where Louisa left off, no matter how devastating it might feel to undo evidence of some of our last memories together. I tore out hundreds of stitches to where the counting was right again. But any initial hesitation also unraveled as tiny hollow loops of yarn seemed to raise their arms in celebration of a new beginning.

A new beginning. Though I miss my friend every day, I embrace the countless opportunities I’m given to honor her memory—to honor our memories. I create pretty knitted gifts as Louisa once did. I extend her smile when those who are hurting need a lift. And I take delight in my other friends’ dreams as revealed in the cozy warm corners of local coffee shops. Indeed, my new beginning—my new life without Louisa—proves that we’re forever knit together.

~Barbara Farland

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