… or how EPP helped me to stay sane.
Sometimes life throws difficult situations at you. Such as when you have just been told that your mother has incurable cancer, are still working that one out, and then get a text from your mum requesting you to drop everything and rush back home because she could only have days to live.
Everyone needs to work such things out for themselves. I’m only glad that, in a moment of inspiration, I added my latest EPP project – the top for a scrappy doggy blanket – to the pile of clothes I took with me. That’s because after just two days of just sitting next to my mum in the palliative care unit, I was just about ready to crawl up the walls.
It wasn’t the hospital. Or maybe it was – hospitals are weird places. But mostly the whole situation got to me. The waiting. The sometimes weird, sometimes touching, sometimes frustrating conversations. The sitting there while she drifted off.
I’d not really planned to take my EPP project to the hospital with me – it was mainly meant as distraction for the evenings. But when I took my project with me, things just fell into place. I was able to relax. I didn’t think I had to make conversation no matter what. I could allow the silences to stretch out. I was able to simply be there.
This little hexie top required virtually no thought. Everything was already basted & I just stitched it all together. Putting one stitch next to the other is wonderfully samey and meditative. You can do it without really concentrating. My mind, which was full of anxious crinkles, relaxed. And, obviously, I could simply put the piece aside when necessary. And it made for a bit of a conversation starter with my mum as well as with the hospital staff.
That’s the finished piece. It’s not great art, but I doubt that the dogs are going to judge me for it. Once finished, I’m planning to give the blanket to a local dog charity.
Unfortunately, this top didn’t take long to make. Luckily, there is a nice fabric shop in town and I was able to begin a new project. Something slightly more ambitious, but not greatly. I didn’t want to have to worry about whether my fabric was the right way up or count my way through a difficult pattern. I just wanted to take my time basting, piecing and sewing.
The pattern I chose is a simply star pattern made up of diamonds, hexagons and triangles. I know that other people like to use different methods to speed up the basting process. I don’t. I prefer to baste, mainly because I can’t quite believe that the glue doesn’t leave a residue, because I’ve always been messy when it comes to handling any sort of glue, and because I prefer to take my time over every step. I genuinely like basting as much as sewing.
Here’s me in the palliative care unit working on my first stars.
I also worked on my quilt at home, and so it quickly grew.
It was a relief and a new source of worry rolled into one when my mum came home for her final days. In the hospital there were capable and compassionate staff around, which could be summoned simply by pressing a button. At home, I was on my own. To be sure, the outpatient palliative care team was always on the other end of the phone line and they came over pretty quickly when I needed them. The nursing team took care of a good deal of other needs. And family members did come over whenever they could. But it’s a different sort of responsibility altogether – almost like caring for a newborn baby but in reverse. I had no experience of accompanying someone on their last journey. Some days it was challenging. Some days it was just fine.
And every day, I added new bits to my quilt top.
My mum finally died on 25 September. From those slow days of waiting for death, I’m suddenly thrown back into life, having to take care of a seemingly never-ending list of things that need to be done now before I can go home again. The quilt top is a major focus of these strange days, too, although I have rather less time to baste, piece and sew. And I look forward to finishing it back at home. This quilt will be for myself. It will be a kind of memory quilt – it’ll remind me of these strange, sad, funny, weird, totally out of the ordinary days when my mum was going on her last journey, and took me along for the ride.