Making a personalised square for the Memory Quilt

Here are some basic instructions for making your square. You don’t have to be particularly proficient with a needle to create a personalised square for the quilt. If you would like your square to be incorporated into the TAMBA memory quilt, please email me for details of where to send the finished square.

IMG_2153 (2)

There are so many bits and pieces you can buy ready-made from Hobbycraft or C & H. For example, you can get felt with an adhesive backing and cut out shapes or letters. You can also get designer felt with a glittery finish. Look for motifs or images that are significant to you.

If you don’t sew, perhaps granny or a friend would embroider the name (and date) on for you? Or you could buy some special marker pens for writing on fabric and write them on. The quilt is not likely to be washed.

049 - Copy (3)

The main thing to get right is the size, so that I can frame and sew the squares all together. Cut a square of fabric 13 cm x 13 cm. Perhaps you have some fabric that has a special significance to you? A piece from your wedding dress or baby clothes? Remember to allow at least a centimetre all the way around for the seam allowance. The whole design needs to be contained within a 10 centimetre square – see the rainbow and butterflies below. If you can’t fit the embroidered writing on the square, you can add a small panel approx 7 cm deep as shown below:

Here is the finished quilt I made for my daughter. The green quilt above is the one I kept myself. Link to main article.

049

Creative Projects for your Healing Journey

I was so excited when I heard that my daughter was expecting twins. Grandchildren are such a special and precious gift, and something about the role of granny sent me rushing for my knitting needles. Strange really, as a matinee jacket started for my own first baby didn’t actually get finished until my third child was born. But as an expectant granny, I felt a responsibility to carry on the knitting tradition from my own mother and grandmother.

When we lost the dream that was to be my twin grandsons, my heart suffered physical pain, my empty arms ached and my mind and fingers fidgeted with frustration at not being able to do anything to make things right.

I wrote in my little notebook. Pages of angry ranting: the hospital was to blame; God was dead; life was unfair… Was it all somehow my fault?

IMG_2124I went for walks. During a visit to Ashdown Forest, Visitor’s Centre, I spotted a butterfly fridge magnet. Taking this as a sign, I picked up copies of all the trails across the forest and I walked pretty much all of them. Before the loss I’d have been nervous to walk on the forest alone, but I remember experiencing a kind of bravado – bring it on.

I know now that these crazy thoughts were part of my grief process and couldn’t be sustained. In Grief Unseen, Laura Seftel sums this up well:

What you must not do is also simple: you cannot blame yourself, you cannot hate God, or the goddess, or the universe forever (well, maybe just for a little while) but then you must return to trust, to creativity, to reconnection.

After loss, people use many different creative routes on their journey to reconnection with the world. One mummy created a grieving pillow the same weight as her baby, and tucked it under her clothes to carry with her.

Marion K Flannery said:

My painting (The Unexpected) attempts to convey the intense, out of control state of losing a pregnancy and all the unfulfilled hopes.

IMG_1694 - Copy (2)

After a miscarriage in 2011, Brighton based artist Alice Lunt created patchwork tablecloths stained with tea and blood. Walkintomyparlour website. She says her work is:

For all those whose biological clock is ticking away, whose menstrual blood feels like the anxious sand running through an hour-glass; who keep trying and keep failing; who have tiny newborn clothing hidden in the back of  their chest of drawers that will never be worn, but will never be parted with.

340For myself, sewing was a way to help fill the void. After the funeral my daughter asked me if I could create a special box for the boy’s ashes. Together we visited Hobbycraft, selecting bright fabrics and little buttons and motifs to decorate it.

My next project was a patchwork quilt. I began by making small squares with images of things that had become significant: butterflies, teddy bears, a rocking horse…

At the start it was just an idea; I didn’t really know how I was going to put it all together, but making these little squares seemed to represent the boys; a way of capturing and holding on to their identities. I told my daughter that I was making a quilt, then quickly decided I’d make one for her too. Once I had created all the little squares, I had to research how to sew them together. I knew nothing then about backing and batting. My project filled many hours; hours that I would have spent cuddling, minding, loving my new grandsons.

049

I also knitted blankets for Sands baby loss boxes – just a big, white square, but it helped to think that I might be bringing some small comfort to another bereaved mummy out there.

I will never forget the day my daughter left hospital carrying two cardboard memory boxes instead of two babies. I walked ahead of her to make sure the coast was clear; I didn’t want her to pass anyone carrying a new born in a baby carrier. As Laura Seftel says:

It is hard to imagine anything sadder than a nursery that must be dismantled because there is no baby to bring home.

Some may argue that making art can seem a watered down remedy – as if it’s supposed to replace the baby. Tracey Emin, who has had two abortions and a miscarriage said:

This is why I have regrets about my art, because it is nothing in comparison.

That first Christmas I bought tree decorations for the boys. Since then I’ve always done something at Christmas for the boys. One year I bought toys for a local nursery; last Christmas I bought the boys gifts that went in the Salvation Army collection box in Morrisons. It is in these small ways that I can remember my grandsons; mark special occasions; give something back.

My idea for a future TAMBA project:

Women engaging in group work art and writing spoke of ‘the need to have a tangible and lasting part of their lost child.’ (Laura Seftel)

Perhaps you would like to create a small square (link to instructions) for your little ones, either embroidered with their names, or decorated with a symbol or image that is significant? Even if you’re not very proficient with a needle, it is possible now to get felt with adhesive backing. You could just cut out the shapes and stick onto a small square of fabric.

I’d be happy to build these squares into a community quilt for TAMBA which we could display – perhaps for the Wave of Light or another occasion when TAMBA mums all come together.

If this project is successful, I’d be grateful for support with the construction stage of the quilt. Perhaps there are mummies or grannies out there who might like to help?

Please email me if you would like to get involved in any way.

Thank you

suzibambi@gmail.com

Source: Grief Unseen by Laura Seftel. Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Writing Poetry as part of your Healing Process

Many parents and grandparents find writing poetry a natural step in the use of creative writing as therapy. There are some wonderful examples on the TAMBA memorial page.

Writing poetry is an excellent way to create something really personal and beautiful, maintaining an enduring connection with the child/children you have lost. It is a way to break the silence and allow your emotions and feelings to surface.

Some people are natural poets, but some of us have to work harder at it, or believe we can’t write poetry – that there must be some special talent that all poets share and we just don’t possess it. Well, that may be true for published poets, but therapeutic poetry is process rather than product based. For many of us publication is not particularly desirable and might even feel inappropriate.

My own poetry ‘epiphany’ came when I realised I didn’t have to create rhymes at the end of the line – or for that matter, use formal structures like iambic pentameter (ten syllables, alternately short and long). Free verse poetry can be exactly what it says on the can – free.

John Latham* describes writing poetry as ‘trawling the self-conscious’. He says ‘for me it’s crucial to disconnect my brain. What is happening is between my subconscious and my fingers.’ He explains that the process of writing poetry helped him to reach some understanding after the trauma of losing his son. He follows a first stage of free association, by reading silently to himself, then redrafting.

This is not unlike the process I use myself. I start by thinking and jotting down any words or phrases that come to me – my free association stage. Then I read them through and try to reorder them into some sort of meaningful progression or structure. Finally I revisit them, adding, editing and changing words to create rhymes. I often look up synonyms using a thesaurus or dictionary for this stage.

Why not have a go?

First stage – make a list of words of phrases. This could be triggered by:

  • an image – butterflies, sandcastles, teddy bears, handprints…
  • an event – first birthday, first day of school…
  • a phrase (perhaps repeated) – ‘I miss you’ or ‘you are here’

Think about the senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste.

Try to include some unusual images or symbols – but don’t overdo it.

Middle stage – try to shape the list into some sort of order or structure. Sometimes it’s good to take a break between first and middle stage – to see what else pops into your mind.

Final stage – revisit, using a thesaurus if you like, and create some nice rhymes within words (assonance) rather than at the end of sentences. Perhaps include some alliteration too (using words beginning with the same letter) like ‘waves wash’ – again, don’t overdo it.

You might have many attempts at this final stage. Play with it for as long as you like until you feel happy with it. There will always be room for improvement. I like it a bit rough and raw because then it says what you want it to say.

 

The sun beats down

on Regent Street.

I walk to Hamleys, choosing

teddies for the journey

you take ahead of me.

 

Other ideas:

Try writing a haiku – three lines (they don’t have to rhyme)

First line = five syllables

Second line = seven syllables

Third line = five syllables

 

Cream tea, strawberry

jam. Jacob’s sticky fingers,

George’s licky grin.

 

Source: *John Latham, cited in Writing Cures, Ed., Gillie Bolton

Writing your way along your Healing Journey

The loss of a child is a dreadful and unnatural thing – your world is turned upside down. How can it be that this child, with their whole life and future ahead, should go before you?

The loss of an infant strips from you any residue of naivety. Hopefulness is torn away to be replaced with a gaping wound, empty aching arms and an overwhelming sense of helplessness.

I find it hard to imagine how such pain can be borne by the child’s parents, but I have experienced first-hand pain as a bereaved grandmother.

If this is the place you are in right now, whether you are a bereaved parent or grandparent, you have my deepest sympathy. I cannot promise that your pain will ever go away, I am not convinced that we want to let it go entirely, but perhaps I can offer some suggestions to aid your journey towards a ‘new normal’ – when you feel ready, of course.

When a child dies, the parents and grandparents lose a dream, the hopes and dreams they have for their child or grandchild. They grieve for the child who already exists in their mind. Although the child is not there, we have anticipated all those special moments in life, and each absence is keenly felt: the first smile, first tooth, first step, first birthday, first day at school, college, graduation, marriage… As grandparents, all these hopes and dreams are snatched away, but we must also watch helplessly as our own child suffers the worse pain they will ever experience. As a parent, you want to protect your child – you want to cuddle them, kiss it better, make the pain go away. But this is something you can’t fix and you feel a failure. You may also experience survivor guilt – ‘why should my grandchild be gone and yet I’m still here?’

As grandparents, it is important to be there for your child as they live through this terribly sad time, but it’s also important to take the time to grieve yourself.

Sometimes we see news reports of disasters in distant lands. We see women (and men) wailing and screaming over the dead bodies of those they love. Sometimes they shake their fists and cry out, even throw themselves into the grave. We are, of course, far to ‘British’ to show our feelings in such an emotional way. We prefer to keep a stiff upper lip. ‘How are you doing?’ people say. ‘Okay’, we reply in a shaky voice. ‘Just keep putting one foot in front of the other,’ they say, ‘take it one day at a time’. We nod and give a small brave smile. But we are NOT OKAY.

I found that writing helped me to manage my own grief. It was the start of my healing journey, giving me an outlet for my emotions and a place to store my memories and feelings, like photographs, to take out and experience again and again. Perhaps I wallowed in my grief a little – but sometimes I just needed to have a good cry. The page became my friend, someone I could talk to without having to watch what I said or how I said it. Sometimes I ranted with the fury of a madwoman – a raw, primitive wail.

The page allows you to vent your anger, guilt and frustration with no judgement or regret. You don’t have to worry that you might hurt someone else’s feelings by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. The good thing about writing is that you can’t write the wrong thing.

Write when you like, where you like, how you like. Write at home, on the bus, in a cafe.

notebookTreat yourself to a pretty notebook – I bought myself one from the hospital gift shop and began by keeping a chronological account of what was going on. Equip yourself with a new pen or pencil – I always prefer a pencil, the impermanence gives me permission to write what I want. In the early hours of the morning when I couldn’t sleep, I’d make myself a cup of tea and pour my emotions onto the page. It was all a complete muddle of course, but it was something, anything, to keep my hands and mind busy.

Writing is cathartic. Write when tears are streaming down your face. Let grief fuel your pen. Spew your guts on the page. Swear your head off.

 

Some ideas to get your writing started:

Tristine Rainer* identifies four main diary devices:

  • Free intuitive writing. Try writing freely for six minutes. Just hold the pen or pencil and let your words flow – nothing is irrelevant. Let go of any concerns about grammar, spelling or punctuation. If you don’t know what to write, just write ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over. Something is likely to emerge.
  • Cathartic writing. Weep or shout onto the page. Get on your soap-box. Vent your anger, guilt, fears and frustration. No-one is going to read it.
  • Descriptive writing. Write down what happened or what is happening. Sometimes just a factual account is all you can handle at that point, and that’s okay. Try using your senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste to record what is around you.
  • Reflective writing. Write about how you are feeling. What you think about what has happened. If you feel too close, try switching from ‘I’ to ‘she’ or ‘he’.

 

Openers (or triggers for writing):

These act like opening up Pandora’s box, and might get your words flowing.

  • Start with an image – a baby photo; a twin buggy; a teddy bear; a rainbow…
  • Take a line from a song that is playing on your mind – I wrote a poem from Kate Bush’s Running up that Hill – ‘If I only could, I’d make a deal with God…’

 

Extract from my poem:

I’d make a deal with God…

We’d build castles in the sand, watching

waves wash them into the sea.

Collect conkers of rusty mahogany.

Thread them on boot laces.

I’d get him to swap our places…

 

  • A small accident, incident or coincidence (Freud said ‘these don’t just happen’) – seeing a congratulations card for twins; hearing someone call your child/grandchild’s name; reading about a celebrity expecting twins; two butterflies playing around you…
  • Write a letter to your child/grandchild and tell him or her what you feel, what you will miss…

 

 

Sources:

*Tristine Rainer, cited in The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing, Gillie Bolton

Granny’s Story – Jacob and George

Granny’s Story

Jacob (2/10/11) and George (6/10/11)

When I heard my daughter was expecting twins, I was so excited. I’d always had a secret yearning to have twins – so special, so magical.

When you’re a parent, you want to keep your children safe and happy. That doesn’t stop just because they grow up. I shared in their joy and excitement as my daughter and her partner prepared for the birth, and I shared in their heartbreak, loss and devastation when things went so wrong.

I wish I could fix things. I wish I could take the pain away and put things right. Jacob and George, I wish you’d had more time with your mummy and daddy, because your mummy and daddy are truly amazing. I won’t ever forget you – you’ll always be with me, part of our family. You battled so hard to live. I am so glad I had the chance to hold you and tell you how much I love you.

Sunday 18th September 2011

At 11.00 a.m. my daughter’s waters break. We’re told if the babies come today, at 21 weeks + they are not viable and they won’t intervene. Thankfully everything calms down and they send her home.

Sunday 25th September

Contractions start. They tell us again the babies are not viable, 22 weeks + and under 500g. I reason with the doctors, fighting for our boys: ‘So nearly viable, perhaps if their weight is good…’

Things calm down. I go to the hospital chapel to light candles. One little light flickers – almost out. Grandad adjusts the wick and the flame becomes stronger. I pray to God and I feel as if he answers: ‘Don’t give up. Believe in a miracle.’

Each day my daughter hangs on is a blessing, taking us closer to the magical 24 weeks.

Sunday 2nd October

9.00 a.m. My daughter is shouting. We run into the hospital bathroom to find Jacob has been born. Nothing is ready for the little mite, but he’s 23 weeks + and alive. My daughter is rushed to delivery for George. ‘Stay with him,’ she says to me. The doctor is near tears as he explains that Jacob’s veins are too small for intervention. I hold Jacob in my arms, telling him over and over: ‘There, there, Granny’s got you.’ He’s like a little bird.  His face crinkles as I speak – a tiny flicker of movement. ‘There,’ I say to the doctor. ‘Did you see him move?’ ‘It’s just reflex,’ he says gently, but I don’t believe him.

I watch your little face – eyes tightly closed. There it is again, a flutter of life, an angel tickling your nose. When the doctor goes out of the room, I bend over your face, perhaps my gentle breath can fill your lungs with oxygen? I rock you gently in my arms, and tell you how much we all love you – Mummy, Daddy, brother George.

The doctor comes back with a crib on wheels: ‘We need to get him to his mum,’ he says. I look at the crib, sterile and cold. ‘Can’t I carry him?’ The doctor considers for a moment, then nods. When we get to the delivery room, I smile as I hand him over to his mummy and daddy. Jacob is declared dead 45 minutes later.

Over the next few days, we go through hell. It’s all a terrible nightmare. One afternoon, I walk to Hamleys – choosing a teddy bear for a dead baby is all wrong. They don’t want to do anything to bring on George. They even try tilting her bed backwards. Every day, every hour that she can hold on is a bonus.

Thursday 6th October

At 1.00 a.m. the waters around George break. His heartbeat is strong, he’s 24 weeks + and a good size, but the risk of infection to mum and baby has increased. They recommend a natural delivery as a C section is much more risky this early in a pregnancy. Later I wish I had argued this, but I was so fearful of losing my daughter too.

The labour is difficult. George presents shoulder first, and the final stage lasts two hours – he doesn’t take a breath. As they take my daughter away to theatre to remove the placenta, she looks anxiously back at me. ‘I’ll stay here,’ I say. I cradle George in my arms – he looks just like my Dad, arms folded and slightly irritated as if someone has disturbed him while he was sleeping. He’s bigger than his brother – 617g. He’d have stood a good chance if delivered by C section. The towel is loose and blood stained. I don’t want my daughter to see the blood. I unwrap him on the bed to rearrange things. There’s a gash across the top of his head.

‘What have they done to you?  Poor little soldier – you’ve been through such a battle.’ I wrap you back up and cuddle you, telling you how much we all love you. It seems such a long time, like we’ve been forgotten. I feel bad because I’m not sure your other grandparents know what’s happening, but I can’t leave you alone to find them.

Just before my daughter went into labour with George, she said: ‘I’m frightened it will happen again.’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘this is different. George is 24 weeks and bigger. Everything will be okay.’ I feel I’ve let my daughter down.

Over the next few days we spend time with the boys. They are dressed in tiny knitted clothes and we fill the Moses basket with teddies and pictures of the family. We give them lots of cuddles and take photos. I watch mesmerized, as my son-in-law gently unwraps his dead sons, examining every millimetre of their bodies, marvelling at their tiny fingers and toes.

On the afternoon of the 8th my daughter is discharged, leaving hospital in a taxi carrying two cardboard memory boxes instead of two babies.

Afterwards

My heart has a gaping wound, things will never be right again. Seeing your daughter in such pain and knowing that you can’t fix it, makes your own pain seem doubled. I grieve the loss of my grandsons, but also the loss of my daughter. Experiencing death is the moment you become a grown-up – all childhood and innocence is torn away. How could this have happened to us?

16th February 2012

My daughter is pregnant again. ‘You must be over the moon,’ people say. I am just quietly optimistic. We’re in the best possible place we could be at this point – this is as good as it gets for now. Just four months ago we lost our precious Jacob and George and no one can explain why.  Twin pregnancies are complicated. I hadn’t understand that before.

6th February 2017

Although I miss my grandsons every day, I carry them in my heart and I will never forget them. Life is good – I am now Granny to two darling rainbow daughters, four and three years old. They are beautiful, cheeky and full of life. Each year they sing happy birthday to their brothers and blow out the candles on their cakes. They say to me: ‘Jacob and George are stars in the sky. I wish they would come down and play,’ and I say: ‘Me too.’