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.