Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Tribute

For my February Throwback Thursday post and in celebration of the upcoming Valentine's Day, I was planning to show some red and white quilts from over the years. But something happened this week that made me change my mind. My sister-in-law J passed away after a 7-year fight against breast cancer. She faced down cancer with the tenacious resolve to have the highest quality of life possible. The first thing I remember her saying when she was diagnosed was that she didn't want anything to do with "that pink ribbon stuff." (Probably not the exact words she used. She was a practical, no-nonsense person.) She endured all the indignities that breast cancer presents, and after a year of treatments seemed to be cancer-free, but after a few years the cancer returned. She continued to live her life to the fullest through multiple changes in treatments. In fact, during 2014, she and my brother-in-law M took a trip each month between treatment sessions, traveling throughout the US to spend time with family or friends and to visit places of great scenic beauty. 

J was a remarkable woman, and there are so many things I could share about her interests, her talents, her generous nature, and her devotion to her family and church, but I want to share just one thing that was particularly special to me. The summer after my husband and I were married, we took a road trip out west to visit J and M, and J introduced me to patchwork. At that time, she was making a quilt--I think it was a Rail Fence, but I'm not sure because I knew nothing about pattern names back then. She showed me how to cut some coordinating fabrics into simple shapes and sew them together to make some blocks by hand. I worked on those blocks during our trip back home. A little later, my sister-in-law gave me a subscription to Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, and you know the rest of the story. 

Between the time of J's initial diagnosis/surgeries and her first round of chemo, I decided to make her a quilt. Foremost in my mind was that it could not have pink in it. I was a hand quilter at the time, but there was no time for that. So I made a simple strip quilt in colors that I thought would appeal to her. (I don't recall if the pattern was mine or if I was inspired by a picture in a magazine. I do have a graph paper drawing of it that I made while I was planning it.) I sewed that quilt like a woman possessed during my spring break in April 2009 and tied it with perle cotton and some iridescent buttons that I found that mimicked the colors in the quilt. Until then, my gift quilts were in celebration of births, marriages and anniversaries. This was the first quilt I made for someone who was suffering, and it was an emotionally draining task. I spent the time focused on my feelings for J, and the quilt became a prayer for strength, comfort and hope--but there was also a lot of anger there for the cancer and what she had to go through. 




Thanks to J I have had a love affair with quilting for more than 36 1/2 years. Quilting has given me so much joy and has been therapeutic and meditative as well. Quilting for me is prayer, and I don’t think I could do without it. I have difficulty expressing myself well in words—and quilting has given me a way to express what I can’t put into words. I don't think J knew that she would change my life so much when she started me on those little patchwork blocks that long ago summer, but I will be forever grateful to her.

J did not lose her fight with cancer. She triumphed over it by living her life to the utmost to the end and showing us all how to do that with grace and dignity. She passed away peacefully in the wee hours of Monday morning with her husband at her side.

I'm linking up today with Jenn at A Quarter Inch from the Edge for Throwback Thursday. 

13 comments:

Bernie Kringel said...

Janine, this post is an amazing tribut to your dear sister-in-law. I hope you will share it with her children and husband as I know from experience that it is so important to know other's are thinking of the person that we have lost. It is comforting and painful all at the same time.
I had no idea that this was your original quilty mentor. That surely made for a special relationship between the two of you.
The quilt is so pretty. What a special gift. Thank you for sharing this with us - I am sure it was a painful one to write.

PS - you say you have trouble with words - I disagree completely. <3

Jayne said...

I'm so sorry, but so touched by your post. I doubt there are any of us out there where cancer hasn't touched our lives in one way or another. I couldn't have said any of this any better. I especially can relate to expressing myself through quilts.

Thank you for sharing. Our quilts are story tellers.

Yvonne @ Quilting Jetgirl said...

You expressed yourself beautifully here. Not only are your words beautiful, but clearly so is this quilt and the love and emotion that you poured into it. How awesome a connection to share with J; she will live on through your hands and work every time you pick up fabric to sew. You and your family will be in my thoughts. xx

Linda said...

Beautiful post. My heartfelt sympathy to you and your family. What a gift she gave you.
My niece just had a mastectomy, and I was considering a prayer quilt for her. Your post is just the word I needed to go ahead with it.

Paige said...

Janine, I'm so sorry for your loss. From your tribute, she was an amazing woman! Thank you for sharing the quilt you made for her and more so, the story behind it. Praying for you and your family in the days to come.

Tish Stemple said...

My heart goes out to you and your family. Your words are a beautiful tribute to this amazing woman and the gift that she shared with you. I'm sure this quilt gave her much comfort and she could feel the love within.

Jenn @ A Quarter Inch from the Edge said...

Your post brought me to tears, as last year I made a (very pink) quilt for a friend and young mama just beginning her battle with breast cancer. I am so sorry for the loss of your sister in law. The extra love you sewed into her quilt was surely a comfort to her and she'll be a part of every quilt you ever make. Thank you for linking up with Throwback Thursday @ A Quarter Inch from the Edge.

Beth said...

What a perfect tribute. I am especially touched--and grateful--that you said she didn't lose a battle to cancer. Cancer did not win. Each of us will die of some cause. But how many of us will live our lives with as much determination and courage as she did, and find as many opportunities for happiness?

Stitchin At Home said...

What a beautiful post! I'm sure she knew that it was made with love and felt embraced by it whenever she used the quilt.

Unknown said...

what a lovely tribute to your sister in law. She sounds like an amazing person. Special thoughts and prayers with your family as you grieve the loss of her physical presence in your life. What gifts she gave!

Lara B. said...

Whew. This is the most incredible tribute to your sister-in-law. Janine I really like what you wrote about her quilt becoming a prayer. And even more, what you wrote about cancer not winning, because of how J lived her life. My heart goes out to you and I had to wait for my tears to stop before I could comment.

Quilting really is all the things you said: therapeutic, meditative, and a way to express things we don't have words for. And that is saying a lot because you express your feelings beautifully. J left you a beautiful legacy.

Kaja said...

I'm so sorry that you have lost your amazing sister-in-law. Your post is a beautiful tribute and your quilt, made with such feeling, will have warmed her heart.

elle said...

I do like rows, horizontal or vertical! :)