Quilting memories to help grieving children

Memory Quilts, like this one, are made by volunteers and given to children 17-and-under to help them through the grieving process of losing a loved one. (Photo courtesy of Hospice of Aroostook)
Memory Quilts, like this one, are made by volunteers and given to children 17-and-under to help them through the grieving process of losing a loved one. (Photo courtesy of Hospice of Aroostook)
Posted Oct. 15, 2010, at 6:21 p.m.

National Make a Difference Day, sponsored by USA Weekend magazine, is Oct. 23, and folks everywhere are planning events for that national day of service.

Mildred “Millie” Bennett of Wade has been considering for some time what she could do for Make a Difference Day and, reflecting on her hobby of making Memory Quilts for Hospice of Aroostook, she decided to expand that project by asking volunteers to take part in a day of quilting.

Millie is seeking volunteers to join her from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23, at the Washburn Civic Center to help assemble Memory Quilts for Hospice of Aroostook, a program of Visiting Nurses of Aroostook, which is based in Caribou and has a branch office in Houlton and a drop site in Fort Kent.

The WCC donated its facility for the day, and volunteers should bring their own lunch. Coffee and hot water for tea will be provided.

Memory Quilts are made for children under age 17 who are going through the agonizing life experience of losing a loved one.

The quilts have large squares on which the child and patient can create memories to last a lifetime and, it is hoped, help ease the pain of loss.

When Millie was wondering what she could do for Make a Difference Day, she spoke with her friend Robin Haynes, senior hospice volunteer for Hospice of Aroostook.

“I’ve made a Memory Quilt for them for three years,” Millie said, “and Robin tells me they never have enough quilts for all the children who need one. This summer, she said she had to be really selective about who got them.

“I thought, oh my goodness. This would be a good way to educate people who may not know about Make a Difference Day or don’t know about Memory Quilts.

“I’m really happy to have found something I could do.”

Memory Quilts are special, I learned from Millie and Robin.

Although the quilt is made by someone else, it is personalized by the child and the hospice patient-relative.

For example, the patient and child can trace their hands on a square and write five of their favorite things on each finger.

Or they can draw a favorite flower or food, or use a fabric from something that was special to them, such as an award or a favorite shirt.

Squares can include paints, iron-ons or appliques to create and share memories of each other.

Other squares can include special family dates, pets and places.

“We’ve had some pretty amazing experiences” with the quilts, Robin told me.

“We’ll introduce the quilts to the patient and to the child involved with the patient, and ask the patient, while the child is present, to give the child and the quilt a hug and, at the same time, remind them that, even when Grammy or Grampy or Mom or Dad is no longer there, they can always wrap the quilt around them and still be close to them.”

The quilts can have a significant impact on the hospice situation in that “we can use these quilts with these families to get conversations started that often could be difficult,” Robin said.

“We are talking about people dying of a terminal illness and, often, people don’t want to use the ‘D’ word.”

In homes with children, the interruption of the normal routine can be extremely stressful.

“Sometimes, families are being reunited due to end-of-life care issues, especially if Grammy or Grampy is coming from a long distance to live with the family,” Robin said. And, sometimes, children are asked to give up their rooms for that person.

“Things are changing in their world, and it depends on their age and development how they respond to it,” Robin said.

Enter the Memory Quilt, creating an opportunity not only to bridge the generation gap — and perhaps a long separation gap — but also to bridge the gap between life and death, leaving children something special, of their very own, created with the help of the one they loved and lost.

The Memory Quilt makers never know who will end up with the quilt but, Millie said, “Robin always tries to share a little story with us about the home it went to, and that is very, very meaningful for us.”

Anyone interested in learning more about Memory Quilts and this special Make a Difference Day project can call Millie at 455-4054 or e-mail her at mbennett@mfx.net.

Millie doesn’t want anyone to stay away, even if you know nothing about sewing and are not a quilter.

There are lots of things you can do, from cutting out squares to keeping coffee cups filled, as you help make a difference in someone’s life.

Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; javerill@bangordailynews.com; 990-8288.

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