A couple of years ago, when we first started making full size quilts from children’s clothes, we received a particular email that touched our hearts and left our eyes full of tears. It was written by a mother who had held onto a bin of personal belongings of her son, whom had passed away four years prior from leukemia. She knew she wanted something special done with his clothing, but it wasn’t until she found Vintage Giggles, that she felt ready to release her items.
When the box of personal items arrived to us, it was not without tears that we read the notes attached to each piece of clothing. Among other things, the box contained the last clothes that this mother dressed her son in, the shirts her son and husband wore in the last family portrait and the clothes that she wore when she last held her precious boy. We held these clothes up to our hearts and felt the pain of a life lost, while at the same time, gathered inspiration to make the most beautiful celebration of Clayton’s life that a quilt could possibly represent.
Just as the quilt was nearing completion, Theresa (Clayton’s mom) decided that she would like to pick up the quilt in person. So, on a specially arranged day, she flew from her home in Indiana to a warm and sunny beach in Naples, Florida, with three of her close friends, to receive her son’s items presented to her as a quilt.
After a few hours of tears and laughter as we listened to Theresa tell stories of Clayton, this day, and the story of her squares can be told best through her own words. And so, it is with honor that we bring you this guest post, written with love by Theresa Shuck.
“For I know my place is home
where the ocean meets the sky
I’ll be sailing”
We finally made it to the ocean.
A sweet, articulate, sturdy, resilient, and persistent as the ocean waves farm boy, our boy, Clayton, was diagnosed with a horribly aggressive leukemia when he was 2 and half years old. We fought it with the best doctors, nurses, medicine, poison, prayer, and love. But he could not be cured on this side of heaven.
When his time was short on this Earth following his second relapse, I wanted to take him from landlocked Indiana to see the ocean. No one should die without seeing the ocean. Fortunately, I have a practical, reasonable, responsible, sister who thinks of everything, and only missed 2 questions on the SAT. I was lucky enough to follow her through life, and she gave me some sound advice. She asked if I thought he wanted to see the ocean, or if I wanted to see the ocean. Honestly, I wanted to see the ocean because the sunlight reflecting off the sea is the exact opposite of the florescent hospital light that we had basked in for the last 20 months. Wisely, we chose not to travel hundreds of miles with our dying 4 year old. Instead we did what he wanted. He wanted to drink Coke out of a sippy cup, to throw away his toothbrush, and never sleep in his bed again. He wanted to camp out on the couch with his dad. And he did.
“I don’t need very much now,” said the boy, “just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.” “Well” said the tree….”Come, Boy, Sit down. Sit down and rest.” -Shel Silverstein in The Giving Tree
Our sweet Clayton took his last breath snuggled down on the chest of his daddy. The same arms that held him after he took his first breath, held him when he took his last on December 29th, 2010 at the age of 4. He went straight from his daddy’s arms to his heavenly Father’s arms.
We never did take him to see the ocean, but now he sees the ocean from his front row seat above the ocean. I wish I could have been with him when he saw the ocean for the first time, but in a way I did.
On the sunniest Halloween day I have seen in years, ok probably ever. (People here in Indiana don’t usually play beach volleyball on the last day in October, or wear bikinis and Halloween headbands with bat ears) A lovely group of people met him where the ocean meets the land. They had a priceless gift to give our family, and I represented our family to accept it.
Just shy of what was his 9th birthday, and 5 years since we last kissed his sweet face, Brooke and Rebecca of Vintage Giggles presented me with his heritage quilt. They carefully, thoughtfully, and beautifully pieced together some of his most beloved things. Favorite (and stained) clothes, fever blanket, swim trunks, tag blankie, wild custom pillow cases, his preschool bag, the clothes we wore to his funeral, the first clothes we snapped on his wiggly self, and the pj’s he wore when I rocked him one last time.
I rocked him in the same chair that we bought when we found out we were going to be parents. It had seen us through countless sleepless nights, baby coos, first smiles, new teeth, 5 brands of baby bottles, ear infections, colic, projectile baby puke, and IV infusions. This is the chair where I rocked and rocked him even after he was gone. The place where I kissed his almost completely bald head one more time before he left our house for the last time on a freezing cold December night, a cold he never felt.
Now that same chair will have his quilt draped over it. Many of his cherished things out of a plastic tote and woven with love, and pieced together in just his style. It is not a quilt of our deceased child’s things. It is a love story, a love story that will be told and retold, and held up in every sweet detail from the buttons on his knit cardigan that he wore to his baptism to the snaps of his sheep onesie.
Grateful seems small for this gift to our whole family. I am grateful for a husband and daddy to my children with the strength to hold his first born child engulfed in love to his very last breath. I am grateful for friends and family that show up to eat bad news sandwiches with me, dress me for my child’s funeral, and get pedicures while the snow flies. I am grateful for nurses whose tears soaked his pillow, and doctors who stand beside parents at cemeteries and show up for work the next day. For those that wash post-partum laundry and return it the hospital with mints on top, and those that answer 1.3 million text messages from a broken-hearted friend, sister, and daughter. I am grateful for the small people that call me mom, and demand that I not die long before I am dead. I am grateful that someday our whole family will be together again. And I am grateful for the kind of authentic people that give the kind of hugs that leach some of the pain out of your bones. The ones unafraid of putting their once broken heart near yours in the warm sand. They all made up the fabric of his life, and it is now held together with the sweet stitches of love. His love story, our love story, draped over the back of a chair that beckons “Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest.”