Friday, September 24, 2010

The Parasol is the Umbrella's Daughter: For the AAQI





As I designed this little quilt for donation to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative, I never dreamed that I would have the presence of mind to pack it as one of two little completed quilts into a suitcase bound for Alaska during the 24 hours period of learning of my father's death and arriving in the Juneau airport. Nor could I imagine how my artists statement would change in depth and meaning for both of them, or for me, as I reread my statements, as I mailed them from our Douglas Island home.

I had intended this little quilt to carry the energies that healing can take...the daily losses of my mother through Alzheimer's, the slower path in behavioral changes we may see in our aging family members with dementia, and the long term pain that an individual, or a nation can feel from cultural misunderstandings and separation through war or anger. But I had purposefully used it to describe the wonderful traits that I had learned about coping with my mother's challenges with Alzheimer's Disease, from my father.

As her primary caretaker, my father had been unbelievably loving, unbelievably amazing and gentle. He took over the giving of her insulin shots when her vision completely disappeared, he took over the cooking of all of their meals when she could no longer remember how to cook, he learned to do the laundry and took over their house cleaning when both of those began to pile up. He learned to pay the bills, to phone and write letters, give gifts, and send cards...things my mother had always done and now he had to learn to do, instead.

If she needed dressing, he dressed her, changing, he changed her...her life changed and with it, so did his. When their pants needed hemming, he hemmed them himself and if the stitches didn't stay put, he used duct tape. If he couldn't find a belt for either of them, he used a piece or rope, clean socks for her...he used his own. He determination to keep going and to serve his precious sweetheart was endless.

He found ways to retell stories to her from how they met and fell in love and ways to ask her questions about those stories to trigger her memories. He was always so sure that he could bring her back to him and that a cure for whatever was wrong with her would be found. He talked to her for hours and hours each day and sometimes even into the middle of the night.

He worked so hard, for so very long, only pausing for my long visits from Oregon, when I could take over, and later when it became too hard for me when I broke my wrist and too hard for both of us combined, my brothers stepped in to help, as well.

These loving acts taught us all so much about strength, about courage and about love and loyalty. They taught us just how much he was capable of, and how much we were capable of, too. But as we talked, as he retold his stories, I also learned so much about the pains and the losses that he carried, from his own lifetime, as well.

As one of five sons that his mother and father sent off to serve in the Armed Forces during World War II, all had to face only four sons, four brothers, coming back home again. My uncle, Albert, had lost his life at the age of 21 when his airplane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. As its copilot, he had taken over the controls from the pilot who was killed instantly, and landed the plane safely in the ocean. He managed to save the lives of all of the others on board, but lost his own awaiting a sea rescue.

The pains from that loss haunted my father for decades and did not find healing until two beautiful (and dearly loved) young women of Japanese descent married into our family. Only then, was he able to see that anger or hatred can not be truly carried by a culture, a nation, or a group of people, but only within each individual. He healed that long standing pain and released it through love.... just as we all must learn to do with our own pains, our own angers, our own deep and challenging losses.

When I had written weeks before his death in my 'Artist's Statement' for this quilt #5256 The Parasol is the Umbrella's Daughter, I had written:

"Emily Dickinson, wrote that the parasol 'assists a siren in her serene display; But her father {the umbrella} is borne and honored, And borrowed to this day."

As I made this art quilt, I thought of my father, who faced and bore the burden of my mother's Alzheimer's with great honor, strength, and courage. I can only hope to borrow and carry those traits now as I continue to care for my mother, and honor my father, by caring for him, as well."

Little did I realize that 'caring for my father' would mean being able to lovingly go through a visitation at a funeral home, placing my hands upon his lifeless heart, rubbing his sweet little bald head, or dropping kisses upon his cheeks. I told him how much I dearly loved him, how much being his daughter had meant to me, and taught me throughout my life, and how I would remember him, his strength, and his courage for the rest of mine. It allowed me to release my own losses, my own pain at the changes in him during his final months, and to know once again, who he truly was, and always would be.... for me in my own heart.

I read to my family, as we stood in that funeral home, another beautiful poem. A poem that I had found written in a book I had also thought to bring to Alaska with me...a little poem, in the back of one of my own books, in my dad's own handwriting....a poem that I had only discovered was there....two weeks before his death. It a poem about love and loss and how the love lives on and on.

Amazingly, I later discovered that the poem actually came from a WWII novel. Synchronistically, my little art quilt now carried even deeper energies and more meaning. It had become a true vehicle for me as a little healing quilt...all on its own.

I knew from the wording of that poem, that my father probably meant his love for my mom and how he would always leave that love behind, no matter what. But was also about him, his heart, and his great love for all of us, as well.

I knew then, that these two little art quilts that I had brought up with me after his death, were not only about healing wounds, and learning about strength, and love, and courage, and learning to learn to allow grief to be set free...but about how all of those lessons, all of those traits do live on, they are healing gifts from, and to, all of our hearts.

I had received notice of my quilt registrations from AAQI on the very day that my father died, and I mailed both of them on the very day that 'he' came home to rest with us..ashes to ashes and dust to dust, just as he had always wanted and planned.

I knew then, what I had always believed deep down inside was true. That death is as many as said 'a very real illusion.' That love, and memories, and heart strings that connect us as families and loved ones forever, do indeed, live on.I knew that a father's love, a mother's love, and a daughter's love, cannot be destroyed by death and cannot be destroyed by the changes we see in our loved ones before they die.

I know now, that this little art quilt The Parasol is the Umbrella's Daughter just like its partner, The Butterfly Upon the Sky both part of my Liberated Quilting Challenge will be heading, through AAQI, to the Houston Quilt Festival, and an even greater meaning as part of a greater display through the work of Ami Simms and her wonderful organization.

And I know, really and truly know, that my love lives on through him, through his gifts, but now through my heart and my own hands, as well.

links:
My other little Alaskan 'healing' quilt:
The Butterfly Upon the Sky
Why I support AAQI, only up the number of family members to 15:
From the Heart of a Quilter
And of course, where you can donate money, donate a quilt, or buy quilts of your own:
Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative
Join us by making and entering 9"x 12"quilts or 4" x6" postcards:
Liberated Quilting Challenge
Alzheimer's Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope

My dad: In Loving Memory

What else can you do?
May Loss Lead to Gain

10 comments:

  1. So sorry to hear of your father....but this was truly an inspiring post!!! My thoughts will be with you!

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  2. Anonymous2:31 PM

    This was such a story and meant a lot to me. I lost my dad five years ago. Just reading this made tears run down my face and I swear I could feel my dad close to me.

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  3. Beautiful stories. Love why and how you made this. I like the added touch of the beads in all of the parasols.

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  4. Michele. I can hear your heart aching and I feel your loss.

    I cannot comment properly as there are no words.

    Take heart from your own writing my dear.

    All love

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  5. Anonymous3:45 PM

    Unbelievably touching. You have such a way with words as well as with making quilts and serving others.

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  6. My dear friend,
    I love your parasol quilt too - Your pen is as eloquent as always and I feel your tears touching the keys as you type- they are tears of sadness and of remembrance of two people who helped you develop your loving values for family and caring for the greater society.
    May your tears help lighten your grief as you continue to celebrate the lives of your beautiful parents. My eyes are wet too from your touching story.
    Sending you a warm cyber hug-
    Hugs,
    Anna

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  7. Beautiful. Hugs, Finn

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  8. Michelle, you were open to such gifts that you received from your own giving. You gave your father an ear and received such memories.

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  9. Well, rats. I'm disappointed that your lovely Parasol quilt is going to Houston. I won't have a chance to bid on it! Of all the AAQI quilts I've seen you make I like this one the best I think. I trust whoever does buy it loves it as much as I would have :- )

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  10. Losing a parent is never easy. No matter how old you are, you get that vulnerable feeling of being an orphan. I lost my father 8 months ago and while it doesn't compare to losing your mother, it still hurts. Let yourself grieve. Alot of folks try to suck it up but that just makes the process slower.

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