My mom’s graduation picture from the Truesdale Hospital Nursing School is on the left. She’s the one who first coined the praise “Now, Let’s Just Think…” which is the title of this blog. She said this frequently when trying to make sure the diverse perspectives of the decisions we made were always well thought out.
I recently ran across the article documenting her graduation in the Fall River (MA) Herald News (Saturday, September 6th, 1952). It reads as follows:
Attired in their professional nurses uniforms, accented for the occaision with corsages of American beauty roses, 26 seniors recived diplomas from the Truesdale Hospital School of Nursing at commencement exercises last night in the Fall River Woman’s Club.
“The Meaning of This Commencement” was the topic of the guest speaker, Dr. Neal B. DeNood, professor of sociology at Smith College. He told the girls that their graduation was “The most important that has ever happened to you or will.”
Dr. DeNood emphasized the importance of the nursing profession as one of dignity and honor and urged the nurses to live up to it’s high standards.
The professional spirit of nursing, the speaker asserted, is of the highest morality since it subordinates personal aims and ambitions to the profession.
Dr. DeNood praised the nurses on their choice of a career which he said is devoted to the greatest thing in the world – service to humanity.
It happened again just as it always has. 6:00 am, I have just fallen back asleep after getting up and there’s Mercy, your friend, walking into a room where I am sitting and looking down at me with a big smile and a warm hello.
She asks about you and I tell her you have died. Slowly it occurs to me that she has died before you so technically, both of you are in heaven.
I walk downstairs and find myself in a hospital where I have once worked and there you are, with a strange hand held pad thingy in your hand telling me you’re trying to find your appointment. “It’s at 9:00am,” you say.
“It’s 11:00”, I tell you, sadly realizing that again, we have missed an appointment and I’m angry at myself for scheduling it too early because you always told me that you preferred all of your appointments to be scheduled at 11:00am. “We won’t have to rush in the morning, then we can stop for lunch and I can be home in time for my nap”, you said.
It made perfect sense. But unfortunately, there were those few times that no appointments were available at 11:00 so we had to adjust for the appointment with the financial planner at 10:00 am or the outpatient surgery on a Friday afternoon at 2:00pm.
Seriously, who does surgery on a Friday afternoon at 2:00pm? End of the week, everyone’s tired; why?
The surgeon struggles to stitch your skin but it breaks and you keep bleeding. He tries again and again and again before he finally gets it. You are in pain. Normally you’re one heck of a brave trooper but not this time. “Ow!” you say, loudly. I can’t even look at all the blood but as he cleans and covers your wound with bandages and talks to you about infections, debridement, and wound care, I look back at your leg and see it braced against the cushion on the seat below you as we are sailing close-hauled to Martha’s Vineyard on a beautiful sunny day so many years ago.
“I’m paying for all that fun we had out in the sun and on the water,” you tell us. I don’t know that our young surgeon understands the joy of sailing to the Vineyard as he continues to stitch your skin.
I feel your hand on mine as we look at the pad you have with the appointment time on it. I can’t believe I have screwed this up again by scheduling it at 9. But you say “it’s okay we’ll reschedule” which often meant you didn’t really want to go to it anyway. You were done with the surgeries and the pain with the subsequent bruising and scars.
And then I realize that you’re in heaven with your friend, Mercy, and I don’t know why you’ve come to visit me in this 6:00am dream I am having…in New Hampshire, still under a year since you have died.
The title “home is the sailor, home from the sea” is from the poem Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson. This was how my mom would greet me whenever I would return home after being away at school.
When my parents sold their house, they asked me if there was anything I wanted to take. The one thing I really wanted was a picture (this picture above) that had been in the attic and had a huge slash in it where the moonlight is reflected.
When I was younger, I had spent many years carrying sails up the stairs to the attic so I could hang them up to dry after an evening of sailing. Every time I would hang them up, I would turn and see this picture leaning against a table, torn and in rough shape, but reminding me of the awesomeness of sailing home in a storm.
Home to the comfort of a safe harbor.
When I discussed wanting the painting with mom, she hesitantly said she didn’t think it could be repaired. But on Christmas of that year, she and dad gave it to me (fully restored as shown here) as a Christmas gift. Mom told me she had taken it to a friend who was an antiques guy who knew a painter who restored art.
It’s still here with me – with a little extra light from the moon to find our way home.
Two years ago, when my mom died, the assisted living facility where she lived gave me 30 days to pack her belongings and move them out of her small apartment. As much as it seemed like 30 days was a long time, it wasn’t. As we had relocated to New England from Florida, a few months prior, some boxes remained unpacked as we struggled with the transition. I felt like I had completely lost my sense of “home” and couldn’t imagine how, at 86, she must have felt during this challenging transition.
But I realized I just needed to stay in her room at the assisted living place and finish everything while we also planned a memorial service for her and my dad. Some boxes were easy. Sometimes, I knew immediately what to keep and what to donate. Other times, when I would open a closet or a drawer or look at a picture, I felt the immense sorrow and grief that went with missing mom.
Every time I opened the door to her closet and looked at her clothes, I felt sick.
My sadness went on for another week and became more uncomfortable until I knew I had to do something because I was running out of time.
I took all of her clothes out of the closet and separated the ones I could donate from the ones I knew I needed to keep because of all of the memories they carried with them. Slowly and meticulously, I went through piles and piles of clothes.
When people die, I heard that there are websites listed on the internet where you can make quilts out of clothes. As I skimmed from site to site looking, they all seemed robotic and impersonal. When I told one of the staff members at the assisted living place that I was thinking about this, she said: “I have a relative who makes quilts.. all by hand.. they’re beautiful; let me ask her”.
A few days later, she returned with a phone number and said, “she hasn’t made a lot of quilts but would be willing to help you; just call her.”
So as I sat on mom’s bed among the piles of clothes, I called her and introduced myself and asked her about her willingness to help me with a quilt. She agreed and told me about the quilts she would be able to make and asked: “are her clothes dark colors?”.
I looked around at the piles of (mostly) shirts alongside me. “No,” I told her, “there are mostly bright colors; mom loved bright colors.” I hadn’t realized how bright the colors were, or how distinct some of the patterns were. But as I looked at them, my memories came flooding back. I saw the shirt she had on when we sat on the back deck of the boat cooking dinner as we looked out over the harbor in Block Island, and then one she was wearing more recently when we cruised around the neighborhood in our golf cart in Florida. I saw the one she was wearing when we sat together on a bench eating lunch as we looked out over the intercoastal waterway watching the dolphins. That shirt was a “must-have” in the quilt because of how beautiful that day was.
Looking at the pile of clothes and remembering those days, I realized that, as sad as I felt, everything would eventually be okay. I wasn’t sure, I felt a little better, but I still really missed mom.
“What should I do with the remainder of the clothes that I use or the ones that I don’t?” she asked. “Keep them,” I said definitively. I couldn’t explain why but the thought of some of mom’s bright colors going into making a quilt for another person – another family, seemed like a perfect idea.
Aristotle once said “the whole is more than the sum of its parts,” I felt that spreading all of the bright and dark materials, colors, and textures that mom wore broadened the perspective she brought to us all.
When I ended my conversation with my new quilter friend, the intense sadness I felt became a little more manageable.
A friend had told me about a “fluff and fold” place about a mile away, so the next morning, I filled two large duffle bags with the clothes for the quilts and dropped them off. A few days later, when they were ready, I took them to FedEx and sent them to my new favorite Quilter in Virginia.
There were only two additional emails from the Quilter which followed our initial call. When she asked about an idea for a pattern, I sent her a photo I had of a quilt that mom’s grandmother had made for her. When we discussed size, I told her that a 60-inch by 60-inch quilt would be perfect and asked if she could make two of them, one for my brother and one for myself. I also told her to take her time as I wasn’t in a rush and knew that our loss’s most difficult memories were in good hands.
Six months later, I received an email informing me that our quilts were ready and on their way to my home in New Hampshire.
“I hope you like them,” she wrote.
Since sending her the two duffle bags of clothes, I had consistently thought the day I received them would be like Christmas morning. I knew I would receive a beautiful gift but had no idea how they would look.
They would be sent by a woman I’ve never met, who had agreed to preserve the legacy of someone she has never met whom I loved very much. Sometimes the world is impressive.
The quilts arrived in October. It was precisely like Christmas morning, and I couldn’t help but stare at them because of how beautiful they were (and are). I took pictures and sent them to friends as I was so impressed with the result. The hand stitching was lovely, as was the juxtaposition of color and texture in the materials used.
I told one of my friends, “it feels like I’m looking at a legacy in color and texture.” I remembered that poem, “The Dash,” about the quality of your life from when you are born until the time you die but in the form of the colors, textures, and fabric we wear.
When I think of all of the decisions I’ve made since mom died, having our two quilts made is one I will never regret. I challenge you to consider where your thoughts go the next time someone mentions the importance of “living your dash.” If you’re like me, maybe the subsequent thoughts you have will be more related to colors, texture, and the time you had that shirt on when you did that thing that you remember because it was such a great time.
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