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The Quilt

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Some of us grow up with talented mothers that are beautiful, unpredictable, and not so hot in the emotional growth department. If you have a mother like that, and I did, the real gift you get if you’re lucky is an aunt. In my case, she was my mum’s youngest sister; a precious gem no matter which way you cut it. She provided me with steady assurance throughout my life – a welcome relief from the quicksand of home – and her ability to anticipate what I might need from a distance of 1000 kilometers was uncanny. She was the light at the end of a long tunnel and I wanted to make a home for my family and me like she did.

In the year before my daughter died, this past year, I spent a lot of time with my aunt. My daughter lived closer to her than to me. I’d stop in on my way, have a good cry on her shoulder, and arrive at my daughter’s bedside with a full tank of resolve at my disposal. This is in spite of the fact that my aunt was dying, too. She was 79, she said. She’d had a long, happy life, she said. Hug her for me, I said.

When I’d come home, counting the 20 or so days until the next trip back, I’d crawl into bed and under a double ring quilt my aunt made many years ago. The tiny cutouts of cotton fabric, culled from remnants of dresses sewn for her daughters and granddaughters, comfort me now in ways I wouldn’t have thought possible. Now that they are both gone, and my bedside table is graced with a photograph of my daughter sleeping under the same quilt as a teenager (well, refusing to sleep on Christmas Eve, actually), I lay my head down each night and imagine that the pair of them embrace me until sleep comes. Sometimes that takes awhile.

I told my aunt how much I loved the quilt and she launched into a stylistic self-critique of her early quilting skills (or lack thereof, according to her). I’d never noticed imperfections of any kind on it but once she made me look, I had to admit they were there. Still, each stitch is hers, as opposed to the machine-made ones sold at Sears. Does the imperfection make it perfect? Is that the same as us?

As a child, her home was the only place I felt safe, the down-filled Danish bedding some kind of wonderful I’d never seen before. Her home was, like her quilt, imperfect. It was also real and I soaked it up. She was passionate about her life, her kids and their kids, and she was still madly in love with the man she’d made it all happen with. She reminded me, after my daughter’s death, and before her own, that I’d done it, too. I’d married for love, built a life that was full and continue to follow my dreams. But it all went so terribly wrong, I said. Yes, it did. And there it is, I guess. Even when your eyes are on the prize; even when you tread a careful path; even when you love as fiercely as you can, the challenges you encounter can be insurmountable.

It’s true; my daughter is no longer in this world. I may not know exactly where she is, but at least I’m sure who stands beside her. They are together, much like the double rings on the quilt that comforts me nightly. And like each imperfect stitch upon it, I am reminded to remember what I already know. It is perfect in its imperfection. It is the same as us.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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Aside

The journey forward is tentative for those of us who find ourselves with a lifetime membership in the world’s least-desired club, the one made up of parents who outlived their children. The dues are endless, and they change from day to day, month to month, reflecting both moments of hope and despair, woven intricately together in a design guaranteed to surprise you when you least expect it.

Some arrive here at this destination suddenly, and with no preparation. Others, like me, spend years deluding themselves into thinking they’ve made peace with the inevitable. I went back to school to do my Master’s degree reasoning that if the worst thing happened, I’d be able to keep moving forward. When it did happen – the worst thing, that is – I felt the collision occur. It was me, grinding to a halt while my daughter’s foot from the other side pushed in opposition, the result an impasse between the two worlds in which we find ourselves. She won, though. I knew she would. So did she. I’m finished school and the project that kept me sane throughout holds the two of us together still, the glue that binds us while she and I figure out our new universe.

Now it’s time to graduate and as I contemplate walking across that Chan Centre stage at UBC, instead of dreading it I find myself seeking it. She waits for me there and just as she and her voice inhabited the theatre in life, I know she’ll watch the procession and convocation from her centre spot in the choir stall above with the same ear-to-ear grin she wore every time she sang there.

There isn’t a place on that campus I don’t see her. The Rose Garden? We met there every Tuesday for lunch and planned her wedding on warm fall days. The turnabout on Main Mall and Memorial? She sang ‘O Canada’ there to the Queen. I ducked out of Spanish class early to watch but when I arrived, they were ten deep. A very nice cameraman let me climb up his ladder to get a peek at her. There it was, that grin again. The pub at the SUB? Oh yeah, I picked her up there a few times on Greek Mondays, too tipsy to talk, asleep in the back seat, content that she was packing all she could into what she always knew would be a too-truncated life. She knew it, even as the rest of us tried to fool ourselves.

I told her I went back to school partly for her; to do at least one of the post-graduate degrees she wanted to do herself. We’re finished school now, she and I. When you see me take the eight-second walk on graduation day, look hard and you’ll see her, too. Look up, to the choir stall above the faculty seats. She’ll be front and centre. You’ll recognize her grin.

© Kim Reynolds 2012

Graduation

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Where's My Kid?

 

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