On Grief’s Tender Gifts

Last month I came home from packing up my classroom to an unexpected package in the mail. I saw from the return address that it was from my friends, Dan and Hannah, two of the nicest and most considerate people you’d ever want to meet. I set it aside as I finished unloading the car, wondering all the while, What in the world could it be?

After finally unloading everything, I turned my attention back to the package. As I unwrapped the brown paper package, a soft beautiful hand-knitted shawl fell warmly into my hands. Ooooh! I sunk my hands into it and immediately wrapped it around me. I was still at a loss, though. Why had they sent me this? I dug around in the package in search of an explanation. Aha! There at the bottom was a letter. I pulled it out and opened it.

The letter offered a full explanation. Hannah is an in-home hairdresser and has a 96-year-old client, Helen, who lost her son to pancreatic cancer nine years ago. When he died, she was devastated. Ultimately she decided to make a prayer/comfort shawl in his memory. She chose to knit it in an ocean palette as her son made his living from the sea. When she was done knitting it, she asked Hannah if she knew anyone to whom it might bring comfort. Hannah had another client on hospice and she gave him the shawl.

This initial exchange blossomed into an ongoing practice. Helen has continued to make shawls and give them to others with Hannah as her conduit. At this point she has shared more than 75 shawls! Although she does not seek thanks or acknowledgement, she cherishes the notes she receives from recipients and feels that knitting these shawls has helped her deal with her loss. After summarizing this story, Hannah added a note for me, “We thought you might need a little extra comfort on Father’s Day. And the colors of this shawl seemed to me to speak comfort. And Peace.” I pulled the shawl closer around my shoulders and kept it on me all that evening, feeling grateful for its warmth on the cool evening and for the thoughtfulness of friends.

The next day I went to spend time with my dear friend, Sue, who was at home in hospice. I brought the shawl with me. Leaning close to her, I told her the story of Helen and the shawls.

“Oh, how lovely,” she whispered.

I tucked the shawl carefully around her and told her I wanted to share it with her. That I hoped it would bring her comfort.

Today I read a poem by Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer called “As We Sang the Hymn at My Father’s Funeral”. This portion of it really captures that sense I have had so often lately–the feeling that within my grief, I have been blessed by the kindness of others:

Grief comes with its arms full of blessings.
I am not grateful for the loss,
but there is so much beauty in how the world
rises up to hold us—cradles us with kindness,
cradles us with song. There is so much good
in how grief asks us to be tender with each other—

(click here to read the full poem)

I have the shawl back now. The woven fibers hold Helen’s sorrow and comfort, her remembrance of her son and mine of my father, the kindness of Hannah and Dan, and the essence of Sue. Most mornings I wrap myself in it as I write. In fact, I’m wearing it right now.

20 thoughts on “On Grief’s Tender Gifts

  1. WOW! Thank you for sharing this shawl story. I can feel the healing it is bringing to Helen and to you. So glad you included the poem, too. Suhc a powerful and true message. I am sorry for your loss but grateful for all those cradling with kindness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      Thanks, Sally. I started writing this last month, but it wouldn’t quite come together. I was just talking about the shawl and its story yesterday with my sister. Then, today’s poem from RWT really pulled it all together. Her poetry about grief has really resonated with me.


  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Molly for sharing . There is still so much good for us to contribute and receive from each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Patty McLaughlin says:

    How beautiful, Molly.❤️

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  4. ‘Grief’s tender gifts’ is such a beautiful line. As is your piece. And handwork really does convey that continuum of caring. So beautiful for it to extend so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. humbleswede says:

    Thank you. Once again, your post stirs so many of my own memories and connections. I’m so grateful that you shared Rosemerry’s poetry site with me. We, too, received a grief shawl (from my sister-in-law, who travels frequently to Maine coincidentally), and it has embraced us for years. It is truly one of grief’s treasures. When our daughter’s high school planted a tree in her memory, I shared some remarks that, while not as elegant, echo the lines from Rosemerry’s poem.
    There is so much good
    in how grief asks us to be tender with each other—


    Liked by 1 person

    • mbhmaine says:

      I am so glad that you’ve found comfort in Rosemerry’s site. I so often find her poems eloquently capture something I’ve been feeling or thinking. Thank you also for sharing your remarks — they are so heartfelt and despite what you may think, elegant.


  6. Janet F. says:

    So utterly beautiful and touching. Glad for shawls to help those who grieve and the way they have helped so many others in a variety of ways. Happy you have such a warm and full of love gift from your kind friends. Heartwarming to those who read about this. Sending a hug for you in your shawl.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am so glad Hannah’s and Helen’s shawl ministry find its way to you and Sue. 75! I hadn’t realized these two women had done so much. Hannah finds homes! Be well, our friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Eufrey Domingo says:

    You are such a gifted writer. Thank you for sharing that story.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. […] this week I wrote a post called “On Grief’s Tender Gifts“. While it seems counterintuitive, I’ve come to realize that grief does offer comforts, […]


  10. margaretsmn says:

    What a beautiful gift that you have shared through your actions with Sue and now your words in this post. I have made a number (lost count long ago) of prayer shawls. Sometimes the person I mean to comfort dies anyway. That is the part I have had trouble with. But you have shown me the other side of things. The kindness that can come wrapped in a package of grief.


  11. cvarsalona says:

    Kindness during grieving time is a precious gift. May you always being wrapped in love and memories when you wear your shawl.


  12. Hello Molly (this is Hannah, not Dan…) I think sometimes I hesitate to write – wanting to be as eloquent as YOU are! Well, enough of that – no excuse!! I will make a copy of your Slice of Life for Helen and she will
    be blown away (in a good way) by your words, by your story. When Dan told me you’d taken the shawl to Sue, I almost sent another one for her…but then decided that the shawl that was once wrapped around Sue would bring back even more comfort to you. I think the ocean blue is my favorite of Helen’s creations…but there’s a beautiful purple one waiting to comfort some fortunate someone down Life’s Road. xo Hannah


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