Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stitches in Memory and Time


I came to Alaska to care for my 93 year old father and 84 year old mother. My father has been under unbearable stress caring for my mother. My mother is blind, diabetic and suffering from Alzheimer's.

She is also an absolute sweetheart, and it saddened me to learn that she'd progressed to being bedridden and almost comatose by Christmas. I'd brought her up to better health before, and knew I needed to do that again. My dad needed a caregiver's break, some constant cheerful company, and to celebrate his birthday surrounded by his loving and appreciative family.

I also came up to work with my award-winning S-I-L, Paula Savikko, and her second grade class at Gastineau Elementary School in Douglas, Alaska and the making of calico cotton parkas known as kuspuks. (alt. spellings quaspeg, qaspeg, quspug) A kuspuk is a traditional native Alaskan garment, usually made of cotton fabric that is worn over a fur parka in the winter, and as an outdoor garment in the summer...over pants, leggings or jeans.

This would be my third year of involvement with this wonderful project, and while intense (we teach 7 year olds to sew with assistance on our sewing machines) and let them make their own garment every step of the way. They do surprisingly well and absolutely love doing it.

We also worked with the extra-ordinary gifts of Yup'ik Cultural Instructor, Theresa John, as she shared her knowledge of the Yup'ik Eskimos of Nelson Island and their traditions from the Tooksok Bay area of western Alaska as she and Paula Savikko showed students and their parent helpers, to rip out our parkas without the use of patterns, and only using the concepts of non-standard math...the width of one's body,or so many hands across.

Theresa taught the class many words in Yup'ik and described how different the original culture was from ours today. She did an amazing job of working with the children and teaching them Yup'ik terminology, history and geography. With word, song and dance, she created a magical learning experience for all of us, and one that I felt truly blessed to experience.

I never intended that I would slip on black ice, suddenly and without any warning. My feet shooting out from under me and me landing and landing hard on the worst black ice in the history of Juneau/Douglas. That I would pulverize one of my wrist bones, fracture my arm's large radius bone in four places, and dislocate three normally rotatable wrist bones. They, and I, almost ended up sideways that day, and we needed a surgical jackhammer, a titanium plate, and ten screws to put us back together, again.

But like love and care, like needles and thread, this amazing creation I now carry within my arm for life, holds layers together, and now it bonds them with purpose and meaning. It should allow me to someday use my arm, engage my wrist, and move my fingers once again, in the acts of creation.

Until then, I still have purpose, I still take care, and I still do, make do, and create. I am needed and depended upon for others' survival. Even with one hand, I have to cook and serve simple meals. It's hard but if no one else is there I have to test insulin levels and give injections. I collect, wash, dry, and even fold, laundry every day, with one arm, one hand, and yes, it's painful and very, very hard. I still have to dress and undress myself, but I go for many days at a time in order to avoid as much pain of fabric brushing against the wrist area. I shower by using my teeth to wrap a plastic bag around my arm and tape it closed...one arm, and my teeth, very hard but I do it if I want a shower. And eventually I both need and want one. But mostly, I hug, and love, sing with, and talk to, those I love so dearly, making sure they know that they have a place, a purpose, in my own life.

I can type with one finger, to make capitals, I had to go back in and put it on all caps and redo all words needing capitalization..one by one. This one post took me all day long to type. Everything is painful, and everything is harder, but I can still do, and make do.

But best of all, I can give and I can love. In three weeks, my mother has been pulled and lifted with heart and hands, using the fulcrum point of my body, my unique energy gifts, the power of this beautiful land I love so much, and one hand. She has gone from not sitting, barely talking, and having to be spoon fed to talking, limited walking, feeding herself, and not only understanding us, but laughing along with us.

So, when I look back on the last 3 weeks, I am grateful. I truly know that each and every day is precious. I know there are blessings and gifts beyond pain and sadness and loss. I don't know what challenges tomorrow might bring, or how many new challenges or setbacks might get added to an already overwhelming load.

So, just for today, I look back on my stitches in memory and time...and I still feel blessed to have had them. Those I can see in my forearm, those I can see in the kuspuks the children have sewn, and those in my parents' hearts that we all can feel simply by looking at the sparkle in their eyes and the joy in their smiles.

Links to this year in Alaska:
January/February/March
challenges
broken wrist
laughter therapy
alien encounters
coming and going.......
single handed valentines
who dat ?
Kuspuks Go to the Capitol

June/July
Wrap It Up: Living on the Edge of Many Lives
Bento'ed Out of My Box
The Butterfly Upon the Sk
The Parasol is the Umbrella's Daughter

August/September
In Loving Memory
A Walk of Remembrance
May Loss Lead to Gain


Links to Our Previous Making of Kuspuks in 2009:
Kuspuks and Friday Finishes
Fun But Frenzied Frugality: Sewing Kuspuks Again!
Kuspuks
Links to Making Kuspuks in 2008:
How to make a kuspuk
Kuspuks Make Front Page News
Juneau Empire Photos: Parka party 01/18/08 video

14 comments:

  1. What an amazing post. You have such a positive outlook. Your life is busy with others, yet you remain to see the positive side of the day to day task that we all take for granted. Thanks for lifing my spirits today. Keep healing....

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  2. You are such an amazing woman. Everything was so well written, and well typed. I think I would have been down to writing one sentence posts. Great outlook I'm glad your mother is doing better.

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  3. You are so inspiring. You've taken challenges that would have brought many people down, and turned them around and made them into blessings. I loved reading about your work with the schoolkids, and how the old traditions are being passed down. What a wonderful thing to be involved with!

    God's blessings on you for your loving care of your parents.

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  4. My thoughts are with you as you care for your parents, work with the children, and recover from your injury. Your attitude is inspiring!

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  5. Bless you, Elaine! So glad that despite your injury and surgery, you were able to accomplish all that you did.

    Hugs, Karen

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  6. I have been keeping you and your family in my prayers. I hope you are feeling better and not in much pain.

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  7. My dear quilting friend, what an amazing lady you are. Such an inspiration to all of us. I hope that some day when I need help, I'll have a daughter who cares as much!! Love and hugs

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  8. You are a blessing to your family. We will keep you and your family in our prayers and your ongoing recovery. Thank you for being you!

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  9. Michele,
    You fill those around you with hope and the positive belief that things can and will be better. It is inspiring. I celebrate your determination to make things better. It is wonderful and touching to see you continue to make positive contributions( in spite of your own difficulties) to the many lives you touch - both near and far.
    I think of you continuing to do the daily tasks with zest and caring for your parents in spite of your own challenges.
    Hope and caring are necessary ingredients if we are going find solutions to the problems and challenges of daily life. One step at a time...nothing seems impossible to you when you believe that anything is possible..
    A beautiful eloquent post from a beautiful caring lady..
    Thanks for sharing your love and upbeat way of looking at life...
    Hugs,
    Anna

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  10. Thanks for sharing insights from your heart! You are doing great at staying positive in a time of life that would challenge anyone, and not many would be so positive. Please know there are many who care about you very much, including me!

    Hugs, many hugs! And thank you for all you do to make this world a better place!

    SewCalGal
    www.sewcalgal.blogspot.com

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  11. Oh my, Michele! I can hardly find the words to express what a wonderful woman you are. All of the above comments and more. I didn't realize you were visiting your parents as a caregiver. A major undertaking in itself. My friend, you and your parents are in my prayers.
    BIG Hugs,
    Barb

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  12. thanks for being a part of our lives as much as you give to your family currently. You have worked your magic once again for your mom and that is so heart warming to read. You knew you could do and you continue to do so much...please also take time to care for yourself -and when do you come back to Oregon?

    big hugs my friend

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  13. You are a credit to your parents, with amazing gifts of your own.

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  14. YIKES - what next??? After all that, your spirit is still soaring. What a wonderful person you are. Hope you are on the mend & regaining the use of your hand. Hugs to you & yours.

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Michele Bilyeu blogs "With Heart and Hands" as she journeys between Douglas, Alaska and Salem, Oregon.