Sunday, May 31, 2015

Knitting Together Grief and Memories

My mother-in-law is a masterful knitter. She makes beautiful scarves, cowls, and hats. She knits beautifully striped socks with tiny wooden skewer-like needles, tiny clicking movements creating amazingly uniform garments. For my birthday, she made an adorable yellow and green striped, super-soft baby cocoon and hat for our slowly materializing FutureBaby.

And shawls. She has made beautifully nuanced, colorful, and almost lacy shawls for her mother. Grammie lived in a nursing home for the past seven years, during which time my mother-in-law visited frequently, made stuffed quilted cats and window gardens and holiday decorations to cheer up her room. She led crafts at the home, such as Christmas gingerbread house making and wheelchair-height container gardens. She took Grammie on outings, dressed to the nines in flowery dresses and floppy hats. She brought joy and light with each visit. And she knitted shawls to add some color, warmth, and homemade love to Grammie's outfits.

Grammie passed away in early May the Sunday before Mother's Day. She had been ill for a time and her passing was slow. My mother-in-law sat by her side through the whole process, and she knit.

She was knitting a shawl, one for Grammie, even though in her heart she knew that it most likely would not be completed in time for her to wear it. And the yarn was spectacular.

It was multicolor yarn, bought in Florida at least three years ago when she had just begun to learn to knit. It was shades of green and bluish-gray, mottled and marled, so that when knit together it would look like ombre stripes of meadow and silvery river, fields and narrow seas. It caught her eye, without knowing what project she might make with it. So she bought four beautiful skeins and set them aside for a future time.

In three years, my mother-in-law has become a delicately skilled knitter, and the project revealed itself. She sat and knit and kept her fading mother company with the clicking of needles and creation of a soft landscape of yarn.

The shawl is now morphing into a lap-blanket of sorts, and we are here in Maine for Grammie's memorial service. It really does look like meadows and rivers.

What struck me, though, was a thin, dark line of teal that goes across the knitting, interrupting the landscape but also complementing the colors. It is like a dark ring on the inside of a tree, marking a time of trauma.

That line of teal was knitted at the time of Grammie's death, a marker of loss, a solitary stripe in the sunrise-silver tidal river blue grays and the grassy greens of the rest of the open-work shawl-turned-throw-blanket. It will be the only rows of that color.

It is so beautiful to me, this physical representation of grief in the beauty of the yarn patterns. A timeline of sorts. The yarn tells a story, of time spent in love, hoping for a sense of peace through the presence of a loving daughter sitting vigil through her mother's final weeks, days, and hours. A story of the dark grief and loss at the time of passing. And then a continuation of the beauty of the pattern, taking on new life as a cozy lap-blanket, the clicking of the needles becoming a healing process, the shawl turning to an every day square of beauty that serves to hold memories of a beloved mother.

A stranger sitting on the loveseat may see this throw in the future, marvel in its beauty, and not know the significance of the story behind it, the sadness of that single dark teal stripe, the continuation of a pattern, interrupted.


  1. What a beautiful meditation on your mother in law's knitted blanket. There is something inimitable about a knitted item.

  2. The throw is beautiful. But even more, the story behind it is so touching.

  3. Beautiful. Beautiful throw and beautiful story. I'm sorry about Grammie.

  4. Beautiful post. I'm sorry to hear about your loss. A moving way to honor a special person and to express one's grief.