99: Patchwork Memories

99: Patchwork Memories

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Patchwork Memories

Memory is a way of holding on to the things you love, the things you are, the things you never want to lose.

~from The Wonder Years

A little blond-haired boy, freshly bathed with neatly combed hair and clean pajamas, runs to the sofa and waits, sitting on a patchwork quilt, for his favorite movie to start.

He asks Mommy to bring him “Daddy’s Blanket.” His young mother brings him the blanket, much like the one he is sitting on. He sees her reach for her camera and Liam’s blue eyes sparkle as he smiles at his mom, who captures a smile and a moment she will treasure always. The smile of her handsome son, with its hint of mischief, so like his daddy’s.

It’s a familiar scene, played out in homes where children are loved, adored, cared for, and feel secure. But there is something different about Liam’s life. Somebody is missing, and can never be replaced. His daddy, Mitchell Glavine, has died.

He was a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning in a cabin, a year before this photo of Liam was taken. It has been a year of pain, sorrow, and heartache.

How could life be so cruel to let this happen to such a promising young life? A young man who graduated from St. Francis Xavier University, liked his work in technology, and loved Liam and his mom more than life itself.

Liam’s mother, Vanessa, is young, but she has had to face incredible gut-wrenching heartbreak in the year since Mitch’s death, and she has had to do it while caring for Liam and making a life for him. Never in her wildest dreams did she imagine living her life without Mitch.

In the weeks following Mitch’s death, well-meaning people advised Vanessa—a young mother awash in grief, bewilderment, and pain—to “get rid” of Mitch’s clothes “right away.” Others advised her to “wait a year” before doing anything.

Through the fog of pain and shock, living in a daze, Vanessa could not make a decision. She couldn’t let Mitch’s clothes go, and she could not keep them. Decision-making was impossible.

As often happens, the answer came to her very unexpectedly, maybe with the help of a guardian angel, and the answer was indeed an innovative idea. The glimpse of a solution came to her during a conversation with her friend, Jo. As young women often do, they shared each others’ lives, hopes, dreams, and hurts, gaining strength from each other.

Jo spoke of having a quilt made for her daughter’s graduation. She told Vanessa about a lady named Shirley Zillman who both Mitch and Vanessa knew, who lived in the community of Port aux Basques, NL. Jo spoke of how extraordinarily beautiful Mrs. Zillman’s quilts were, and she planned to ask her if she would do one for her daughter.

Vanessa shivered! Would it be possible to have a quilt made from Mitch’s clothes, and in so doing let them go, but yet keep them?

She still has no idea where the thought came from—she had never heard of such an undertaking, nor did she know if it was possible to do.

She visited Mrs. Shirley Zillman, a lady with a kind heart, who showed Vanessa some of her magnificent quilts. Hours and hours of work were required to make each one, and it showed. She had some portraying Newfoundland scenes, support for breast cancer victims, and various others—each one a work of art in itself.

Vanessa told Mrs. Zillman of her idea, and how honored she would be if she would at least attempt to make a quilt from Mitch’s clothing.

“I’ll do it Vanessa,” she told the grieving young woman, “and the only payment I want is a photograph of you, me and the quilt!” It was a remarkable act of kindness from an extraordinary lady.

Later that week, with a heavy heart, Vanessa delivered Mitch’s belongings to Mrs. Zillman. Time passed, and with each day she doubted her decision more and more. What if it didn’t work? What if it was the wrong decision? Her anxiety and self-doubt grew.

Then the call came. The quilt was ready.

Vanessa was ecstatic, terrified, grief-stricken, so much so that she asked her friend Jo to go with her to pick it up. She needed support and somebody who understood her anguish. She was a twenty-nine-year-old woman with a two-year-old, having her husband’s clothes made into a quilt! Nothing was fair.

Then Mrs. Zillman brought forward the most precious thing Vanessa had ever seen. The patchwork quilt was absolutely beautiful. Vanessa burst into tears of grief for what was never to be.

As promised, the photograph was taken of Shirley and Vanessa holding the beautiful quilt. Shirley Zillman then shared a secret, she was working on a smaller quilt for little Liam. More tears flowed as Vanessa was overwhelmed by the generosity being shown to her and her small son.

Now was time to share the well-kept secret. Vanessa casually asked her sister, Jesse, to come and see something she had, just for an opinion.

When Jesse arrived, Vanessa produced the comforter saying only, “Shirley made it for me!”

“Oh, nice,” Jesse said, as she closely examined the handiwork.

Then she recognized a patch of one of Mitch’s shirts, realized what it was, and cried as if her heart would break. Two sisters, brokenhearted, holding a precious work of art, done by a gifted lady, is something they will never forget.

Liam soon had his own “Daddy’s Blanket” as he calls it. Already he has identified a few pieces in it. And with the help of time and a loving mom, he will learn more about his dad, and about his special “Daddy’s Blanket.”

Vanessa finds comfort in her special possession, as Liam does in his. They wrap themselves in their “Comfort Quilts” as if they were being wrapped in the arms of their cherished husband and dad.

The problem was solved, the clothes were gone, but they were back in another form. Vanessa and Liam have their beautiful quilts of “Patchwork Memories” that will give them consolation and they will hold close to their hearts forever.

~Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

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