Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Birthday Quilt, Well Used

Fabric companies should put a message on the selvages: "Warning: Quilting Makes Life More Poignant." Poignant in a good way, enriching celebrations of birthdays, weddings, holidays, of course; but sometimes poignant in a fall-to-your-knees, rend-your-garments, rage-at-the-Creator sort of way.

Warning: This posting involves both kinds of poignant.

This past Friday night, we lost our very dear friend Jeff - (he's the one on the left, with my husband Alan on the right) - after a one-year ordeal with cancer. He was 52.
Photo is circa 2005. You can't see it clearly in the picture, but my husband is wearing a yellow felt crown and Jeff, on the left, has a fluffy pink feathered hair accessory on the back of his head. They were temporarily wearing them while their costumed daughters were in a jump house during a synagogue Purim party.

When you look in the dictionary under menche  - Yiddish for 'fine human being' - there's a picture of Jeff. He was a devoted husband - no, devoted doesn't even begin to cover his love and respect for his wife Alison. He was a Ph.D rocket science who loved his work. He was a hyper-indulgent father - "The children have chosen to eat at McDonalds today!" he would happily announce when we picked our kids up from preschool in the late 90's, where we met. We visited McDonalds a lot in those days, but don't worry, the kids ate very little - it wasn't the McFood they were after - it was the play structure and the ball pit, and Jeff always sided with the kids' desire for fun.

Contradicting to his willingness to visit McD's, he was an enthusiastic gourmet chef. His annual Chanukah latke (potato pancake) parties were anticipated all year. Jeff would spend the entire party stationed at the stove, patiently doling out perfectly-cooked sizzling latkes to the hungry hordes - some traditional style pancakes, some with hitherto unheard-of ingredients like sweet potatoes and zucchini (well before the sweet potato/zucchini latke fads). He also made a delicious and varied assortment of briskets. And once he made a beet-mozzarella-spinach salad that I recall as one of the best things I ever ate in my entire life, and how many non-chocolate substances, let alone a salad, gets that kind of a compliment (from me)?

I could go on about Jeff, so I will, just a little more. Kind, selfless, calmmmmmm.  One autumn morning in 1998, he met us at the hospital at 3 a.m., when I found myself, rather suddenly, giving birth, with my four-year-old still in tow (my lightening-fast labor didn't give us time to drop him off at their house). Jeff caught up with us in the hospital corridor, as we were sprinting towards delivery (every so often I stopped to writhe on the floor with a monster contraction, so Jeff was able to catch up); he gracefully extricated our confused preschooler, reassured him, and took him home to sleep and await meeting his new sister. I wouldn't be surprised if they had breakfast at McDonalds. (They didn't, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did).

Jeff also had a miraculous head of thick black hair that remained ungreyed and undiminished, not only through early  middle age, but even through the chemo.

If there were a list of people who deserve a particularly horrible form of cancer, he would not be anywhere on it.

Friday afternoon. Alison sent out an email saying that Jeff was unresponsive, and could go at any time. So my husband and I went over there that night. he was unconscious and his breathing was uneven.

To my astonishment, he lay under the quilt I made him for his 40th birthday, 12 years ago. I hadn't seen it in a long time, but  I was glad it was there.

(It was basically a quickie novelty fabric birthday quilt, with giant squares, rectangles and strips of fabrics reflecting his and his kids' many interests - dogs, cooking, Pokemon, etc. And especially games. If something involved a dice and points, Jeff was all over it. In the center of the quilt, I put a Monopoly fabric panel. I had inserted a picture of Jeff, holding his daughter in a front pouch, with his son peeking over his shoulder. I faked the font to rewrite the word as 'Jeffopoly', quilting his age into the yellow 'community chest' rectangle, and the year, 2001, into the 'chance' square.)

(I also set in a cheater checkerboard panel with "checkers" made from his kids' faces.
There was a fabric envelope stitched into the quilt to hold the pieces. I also made pieces with Jeff's and Alison's faces, to serve as kings and queens.)

Back to Friday night. I took Jeff's hand and I thanked him for being such a dear and wonderful friend, for being in our lives. He made some little sounds, but otherwise, as we'd expected, nothing. We drove home and I went to bed around 11, praying furiously.

Saturday morning Alison called to tell us that he died, peacefully, during the night.

Under my quilt.

When we went over there later that day, Alison showed me that the quilt has a couple of tears in it, and she gave it to me to fix.  She told me that it had been "well used," before and during Jeff's illness.

That made me happy, in a miserable sort of way.

So it's in my house again right now, far softer and more faded than when it departed a dozen years ago.

There are so many things wrong with the world that I cannot repair. Fixing this quilt is the least I can do. It's pretty much all I can do.

Contributions in Jeff's honor can be made to the Sequoyah School, where Jeff served a term on the  board of directors. The donations can be made to through the school's website, www.sequoyahschool.org, or by personal check (note in the memo line that it's in honor of Jeff Stern), sent to: Sequoyah School, 535 South Pasadena Ave., Pasadena CA 91105


27 comments:

  1. Such a beautiful and eloquent tribute, Cathy. I am so sorry for your loss, and indeed the loss of such a dear and vital guy. It is wonderful how quilts can comfort us in so many and varied ways. Thank you for being one of those amazing people I know. You are a treasure.

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    1. Thank you, Jeri. You're an amazing treasure, too.

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  2. The first time I was told that something I had made was part of the hospice room decorations I wept. You make things..they live in other homes...but those things you make really matter to the people who live with them. How much they matter can sometimes take your breath away...or sock you in the stomach.

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    1. Wow, Sarah. I totally hear you. What an honor to have a quilt on display in a hospice. Thank you so much for your comment.

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  3. Hi Cathy. I'm so sorry about the loss of your friend. You can do (or have done) a lot more than repair the rips in Jeff's quilt...first, you made something that comforted him. And second, you made something that will comfort his wife...she wants you to sew it up so she can enjoy the happy memories that it will bring her. That's quite something!

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  4. Oh Cathy, I am so saddened by your loss. It is always so difficult, if not impossible for us to understand why vibrant , good people in our lives pass into life eternal , way too early. My father died at 40, when I was just 10 years old...and yet that reality has never made it any easier.it does indeed help us to realize how precious each day is, to each of us. And, how blessed we are to share in our friends' lives. I also make healing quilts, with the mishaberach prayer or other thoughts of healing, embroidered upon them. I always offer them up to children and friends I hear are battling cancer and other illnesses. I like to think they offer almost ' magical or mystical' healing to those they comfort.i am sure your quilt did just that for your dear friens, and now provides comfort for his family. When someone passes on, we grasp our memories and shared experiences, to keep them alive, your quilt will be that link. May his memory be a blessing, and your pain lesson with time and be replaced with memories.

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    1. Roberta, thank you for this beautiful message. I will pass your condolences on to Jeff's family. I hadn't thought of quilts with the misheberach on it - what a wonderful idea - goes right to the point! Of course, it's longish, so one needs an embroidery machine... Much love and gratitude.

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  5. Beautiful and moving beyond words. It is obvious that your friend Jeff, was a very unique human being, but obviously so were his loved ones and so are you. Bless you for reminding me of the power of the human spirit to touch others' hearts and lives in ways we aren't always aware of. My thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family and to the greater circle of those who loved and miss him, now.

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    1. Michele, thank you so much for writing. I will pass everyone's condolences on to Jeff's family. And thanks for understanding.

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  7. Baruch Dayan Emes. May Jeff's memory be for a blessing. Kudos to you for your love and friendship to his family. Take comfort knowing you enabled Jeff to envelope himself in your warmth and caring. I like the idea of a Mishebayrach quilt. A temple in San Diego did that several years ago with members and non-members contributing squares they crafted. It was on display and whenever a person needed extra cuddling they could envelope themselves in that blanket and feel a sense of healing. What a mitzvah. Kudos to you for your friendship, love, and concern for a fellow human being.

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    1. I never heard of mishebayrach quilts before, but I think that's a fantastic idea. I'd love to get involved in a project like that! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  8. we never fully realize how much our quilts mean to others. you are the true mensch here!

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. When you know people like Jeff, you get more mensch-ey.

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  9. Thank you, but that may be a slight overstatement. Jeff - and people like him, true menches - bring out the best in everyone whose lives they touch.

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  10. This is such a beautiful tribute and story of lives well lived. Thank you for sharing and my prayers are with you. I celebrate such amazing people.

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    1. Thank you for your prayers and thoughts. Jeff is a person to be celebrated. He was as humble as he was wonderful.

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  11. Dear Cathy,
    Thank you for sharing with us this beautiful story about a beautiful person. My prayers are with you and Jeff's family. The quilt is simply wonderful and fun. I'm so not surprised that Jeff used it in the hospital. It's a privilege to have you for a friend.
    Big hug,
    Shulamit

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    1. Shulamit, thank you for your beautiful thoughts.

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  12. Cathy, it has been quite a rough year for you and yet you go on giving of yourself. You are a mench even though you won't admit it. My deepest sympathy on the loss of Jeff. He must have been quite a mench to inspire such love. Hug yourself with the quilt before returning it. Be well. Love, Marla

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  13. Marla, thank you for your note. We just got back from the funeral, and I am wrung out, as is everyone who went. The consolation is that he led a beautiful, meaningful life, from beginning to end. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

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  14. Such a beautiful and eloquent tribute. You made me feel as if I knew Jeff myself. The world lost a champion.
    Mary M.

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  15. He was a champion menche. Thanks, Mary.

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  16. sometimes I wonder if the quilts we give are really loved, then I see something like this post and on TV the quilts of Valor or get a note from a parent with a sick child, and I know...quilts are love. Poignant...a good word.

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    1. That is such a good point. We hear all the time on quilt lists funny/sad anecdotes about quilters who discover their gifted quilts had been given to the outdoor dog house, to the garage sale, to the Goodwill. We need more of the other kinds of stories. Thanks for the interesting comment.

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