The Free Motion Quilting Project: What We Leave Behind

Friday, April 13, 2012

What We Leave Behind

This past weekend I went to Mansfield, Texas to see my grandmother one last time.  This post will be a record of my thoughts and reactions to that trip, to seeing a woman I loved so close to the end of her life, so be warned that it might be sad so you might want to check out quilt along posts instead.

It's simple to say that when you take a trip like this you go with expectations, however illogical, of the person you love still being the person you loved so many years ago.

My best memories of my grandmother were when I was in elementary and middle school.  Neither her house, nor the house I grew up in were air conditioned, but Grandma's old farmhouse was built into the side of a hill and her little den room was always cool and comfortable, no matter what the temperature outside.

I'd go over to her house many days on the weekend, and many of my earliest craft projects: crochet, knitting, and beadwork, were stitched out on her couch.  She was always excited to see what I was working on, always interested, and always asking questions.

I especially remember the long days I'd spend with Grandma in the summer.  By the time I was 11 or 12, I was visiting all by myself as my sisters had long since decided hanging out with grandma was "not cool."  Her house was a peaceful place and we'd watch TV together (I didn't have one at home) and within a few minutes Grandma would nod off.

She'd wake up about every 2 hours to ply me with food: ABC soup with Ritz crackers, sliced green apples, Pepsi, and peanut butter cookies.  She just wanted to take care of you if you were visiting, and the best way she could do that is with food.

I remember the way she'd say my name when I walked in "HEY! It's LeeeAHH!"  She had a high pitched voice that went higher when she said my name.  It was a funny thing I never thought about before, but I realized on my trip to Texas that I wish I could hear her say it that way again.

Unfortunately by the time my dad and I arrived, Grandma could barely hold her head up, let alone speak.  She's 88 years old, frail, and tiny.  She's had a series of small strokes that have left her unable to walk, talk, feed herself, or move unaided.

Seeing her in that state was hard, but I wanted to see her one last time.  I needed to say something important to my grandmother that was far overdue and should have been said years before.

I wanted to say "thank you."

A simple gracious thank you to a woman who was kind and gave me a peaceful place to hang out.  A thank you for the support and interest she showed in my crafty projects, which made me feel like I was doing something interesting with my time.

Because without her, without those peaceful days and her time and attention, I wouldn't be the person I am now.  I probably wouldn't have valued those crafts or abilities the same way, and wouldn't have continued to pursue them the way I have.

Of course, when you start looking back it's easy to fall in a pit of recrimination.  I should have visited her more in high school.  I should have stayed with her when I came home from college.  I should have continued to visit and spend long hours in her house even when I no longer needed that peaceful place anymore.

I fell into that mode for a few days, but then I remembered - all that is in the past, and I can't go back and fix it.

I can't change how I acted or what I did.  I could only go now and see her one last time and thank her for what time she gave me, and what time I gave her.

Seeing her tiny form I was struck again by the simple truth of life and death: we come with nothing, and we leave with nothing.

Grandma may be surrounded by family members, being cared for by her daughter, being talked to by various grandchildren and great grandchildren, but in her current state we could be anyone.  She can't see us or recognize us to know we're there.

So whatever sense of accomplishment she might have felt at raising 5 children, does she even remember that now?

And this has led me to question: do we truly leave anything behind?

I've stumbled across this question for days.  As a quilter, I'd love to think that my quilts will outlive me, that they will rest on the walls and beds of my grandchildren and great grandchildren.  I'd love to think that the love and care I've stitched into each quilt will last to touch and comfort more of my family, even after I am gone.

But is this a guarantee?  No.  There are no guarantees, none at all.  I'm no more guaranteed grandchildren, any more than I can guarantee my quilts won't be donated to Goodwill when I die.

So what is guaranteed?  What do we leave behind?  I've thought about this a lot over the last several days, and finally I found the answer.

We leave our memories.

I've shared my best memories of my grandmother.  She might pass away this weekend or next, but I have this memory to look back on and can remember her sweet, caring nature.

And that is the lesson I've taken from seeing her last weekend, so close to the end of her life.  That in this world, the only thing we can guarantee is how people remember us.

It is a simple reminder to be kind.

Kindness may seem such a simple thing, a thing to be taken for granted.

But by building a house on kindness, good memories will be quick to follow.  Memories of laughter, fun activities, or maybe just simple peace and contentment with a warm summer breeze blowing through the window.

This made me think of the old saying "You reap what you sow."

Whatever you plant in the ground will grow up to become your life later.  I plan to make a quilt based on this saying, a quilt that illustrates this choice because it is a choice we make every single day: kindness or anger, peace or discord. 

What are you planting?

Let's go quilt,

Leah Day


  1. thank you for passing me a tissue,,,,,,,,,,,,what a blessing your grannie was for you,and i am certain, she felt the same way with your every visit,,, i can only hope my grand daughters to grow to be such lovely ladies as you are,,,thank you for sharing your lovely story,,,hugs to u,,flo

  2. Beautiful post Leah. My Grandmother passed away in January of this year and my father two Decembers before. I find myself to be a much calmer person these days... Maybe from a deeper appreciation for this amazing world that we are so lucky to be apart of. I thank God for the chance to create art, to recognize and cultivate relationships that help me grow, and the ability to hopefully enrich the lives of those that touch mine.

    I keep a quote from Jim Henson (Muppet Creator) in my studio: " When I was young, my ambition was to be one of those people that made a difference in the world. My hope is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been there." :)

  3. Thank you for sharing your most intimate thoughts. You were blessed to have your grandmother in your life, as well as you in hers. Remember that. Memories ARE everything. I lost my 58-year old husband to cancer a year and a half ago on this date. I will always remember him, as will his children and grandson, as we continue on with our lives here on earth.

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us; it's so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget to say "thank you" and - sometimes more importantly -
    "I'm sorry" when we have the chance. I'm sure that even after her health issues she knows, way down deep, that she has a granddaughter who thinks the world of her.

  5. What a wonderful post, you made my eyes leak and you made me remember my grandmothers who have been gone for many many years and my parents who are both gone. And then others started creeping into my memory, aunts, uncles, friends and for me a DH who left us 30 years ago.
    Everyone leaves something behind for however long people remember, some more than others, some good and occasionally the bad as well.
    And that's why we have to make the best of what we get! Quilt and love and be happy. :)

  6. My grandmother is similarly close to "the end" and she was one of the most giving/caring people I know. I've taken away from her the need to give love freely and give of oneself openly and often. I feel a lot of comfort knowing that she will be so much happier on the other side without the ailments of her frail body (even though I will miss her). Thank you for sharing.

  7. Such a beautiful post. It touched me deeply. I lost my mother, my birth-mother,my father and my Nana. All have left such wonderful memories to comfort me.I can only hope to leave such memories to the ones I love. =!=

  8. Your thoughts are really lovely, and I will try to keep them with me as I deal with the changes in my elderly parents. I can only hope that my granddaughter will feel some of what you do for your grandma.

  9. What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing it. We are are lucky that she started you out in crafts, you are such an inspiration.

  10. You know, if you weren't so busy making amazing quilts, you'd be an amazing author...and not only of quilt books. You are incredibly eloquent. Bless you and your wonderful grandmother. I'm so glad you decided not to spend another moment on the "If only I had done this" (not so)merry-go-round. Your grandmother will recover her memory when she crosses over, and I guarantee you she will have nothing but great memories of her time with you.

  11. Not a sad post at all Leah but a celebration of what you have shared with your gentle grandmother. She has given you a great blessing and she will know how much you love her.

  12. My Grandmother taught me a lot also. I am trying to do the same with my Granddaughter. Your memories are so valuable. They have led you through good and bad times and they will continue to be there to hold your hand and say that you are not alone. Continue to learn from your mistakes and also remember all the things you were taught in that neat little house on the hill. Pain will consume you, but remember her calling your name and you will pull through. Love isn't easy and yet it is heartfelt. Chris

  13. Oh, so many memories flood my mind. Thank you, Leah, thank you so much.
    Barb Jansz

  14. Lovely post Leah, I hope peace will surround your family at this time.

  15. Thank you for sharing this with us and reminding us of what really matters. I am crying as I type this. The last words I said to my grandma, who raised me was Thank you, I love you so much. Yet I hoped she always felt my love and appreciation throughout her life.

  16. Leah, I know exactally how you feel. I lost my grandmother 5 years ago to colon cancer. She was my favorite person on earth. She was kind to everyone. Loved by everyone. She was the single person I could ALWAYS count on for positive inspiration. I will always miss her. It was painful in the end for her, so we told her to go home. And she did. Very sad for us, but I know she is in a much better place. I look forward to seeing her again. It is painful here on earth, so when she goes home, just remember, there will be no more pain for her.

  17. Dear Leah Day:
    Paulette sent me here to read this post. I want to thank you for posting your thoughts. Not that long ago, I posted about what my legacy would be. The comments I received told me that either my friends didn't understand what I was trying to say. Either I didn't convey my concern well, or they have never experienced feeling the concern.

    You are so right. What you leave behind IS memories and you can only hope that you are remembered for what you did and said on you BEST days.

    I think of my grandmother often, and have the same kind of memories that you have. Aren't we lucky.

    I hope your visit goes well.

  18. Memories are what gets me thru after I've lost a loved one. I thought about my father and a friend the other day, and I teared up. Keep those memories alive, tell your children.

  19. Beautiful post. After my husband died last year, I have found that the memories one leaves behind are the treasures, to be passed on so you are never forgotten.

  20. Leah, what a beautiful, heartfelt sentiment. I too am a "grandma's girl." I was blessed to have my grandmother until I was 32. She was the light of my life and never does a day go by without her in my thoughts. It is a true gift to have someone like that in our lives and you will always carry a bit of her with you. May God bring her peace.

  21. Thank you for sharing this personal story with us... It is so hard to see loved ones age and the change that accompanies it.

  22. This is a lovely post, Leah. I have often mused about the fact that even silly, meaningless things outlive us. Furniture, plastic, fabric--even paper away from damp conditions will weather many more years than we do. But some of those things help keep memories alive and comfort those who survive us.

    I was particularly touched (a discrete way of saying am still sniffling and wiping tears) because my mother died one year ago this Sunday, and this unhappy anniversary has been heavy on my mind for a few months. (Even though it was after major heart surgery, her death was unexpected because she elected to have the surgery.)

    I have a large collection of her cotton shirts, some of which are 40 years old. I'm just starting to use them to plan memory quilts for my siblings and myself. A few throws, a few wall hangings is the idea. I found a nice grey that really sets off her colorful style, the great range of shirts I remember fondly from the 70s, 80s, etc.

    I am being very selfish by making this comment all about me, but I do want to say to others that if you have the opportunity, keep some shirts, ties or other fabric items that belonged to loved ones. It's not something you probably want to try to make right away, but it's cathartic to handle them and turn them into something with built-in memories, especially as you'll recognize fabrics in the finished quilts as "I remember this shirt that she wore a lot when when I was in high school!" and so on.

    Thanks also for the chance to post this comment. I wish you peace and many loving memories of your grandmother.

  23. Leah, you have done you and your grandmother proud. She was your refuge, your safe place - no matter what the storm, she was there to help you grow. And now, with her last days here, she knows how wonderful you grew up to be.
    And I think people forget how far kindness can and does go. thank you for the story and memories.

  24. My grandmother was much nicer to me than my mother was. She died when I was in 4th grade but I remember her once telling me I had a beautiful voice. I don't, and sound like a wounded cow singing, but I will always remember the way it made me feel.

    My mother told me I would never be pretty, to just accept that. I haven't forgotten that either.

    You are right, being kind is no more trouble than being mean, and it means so much to that person to be kind.


  25. It's a tough time - we all have to go thru our own version of it. Good to write notes, to share, to think and learn - we all grow thru sharing.

    Sending good thoughts and hugs.


  27. Thank you for this post and my deepest sympathy to your whole family. I too had a wonderful Grandma and watching her die was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but I wouldn't have missed being there with her for all the world. Your post brought some tears, but they were quickly replaced by wonderful memories of my Grandma.

  28. its so important to go and say what you need to say as someone is on the way out of this world, too many leave it too late and never get the chance to say what needs to be said.Her love for you lives on in your work everyday

  29. I feel your pain. I remeber very clearly the night 7 years ago when my Sister came over to my house to tell me it was time for my Mother to leave us. She was only 57. I remember that drive, I remember sitting there with my Mother staring at me and not knowing what was going on. You always remember. And if nothing else that is what you leave behind. I have many things my Mother sewed for me (she was an amazing seamstress).
    Please know you and your family are in my prayers.

  30. Thank you, Leah for sharing with me ín such a difficult time, it must be for you. You have such an amazing and wonderful attitude towards life and how to live it.

    Thank YOU.

  31. Thank you so much for your story. My father died unexpectedly in Nov. and even though he could not respond, my saying good by and I love you was important to me. His heart rate responded to my words so I choose to believe that he heard me. I was important for me to have that closing moment with him. I'm glad you were able to say what you needed to your grandmother.

  32. Thank you so much for sharing. It brought back memories of my Grandmother who we lost last summer at the age of 101. I, too learned many crafts at her side. When my Mom asked me if I wanted anything from her estate, I said "some of her china teacups." It brings back wonderful memories of having tea at her house. She always brought out the "good cups" when anyone came for tea.

  33. This post touched me deeply. I have warm memories of my parents and my birth-mother who have all passed on. My Nana died when I was first married so never met my husband or my children. I regret that each day. Her picture sits on my sewing table as she was my first teacher. Her memories are still very strong after almost 50 years.I appreciate your post and the memories it has brought back. Thank you. =!=

  34. What a wonderful tribute and sentiment! I lost my Aunt on the 8th, your words are so true.

  35. I can hardly see to write. I appreciate your sharing with us. I grew up in Texas & treasured visits with the grandmas. We learned so much & were loved so well. I will hold you in my heart & pray for The Lord to strengthen you.

  36. I really loved reading about your Grandmother and your thoughts on what we take and what we leave. The other day while waiting for my husband finish with the eye doctor, an elderly lady walked into the office and as she passed into the room she looked around with this wonderful smile on her face. Her sweet and friendly countenance made me instantly think of joy; at the same thought, Megan the receptionist called out to the lady, "Hello Joy!" I was so amazed that I immediately said to the lady that I wasn't surprised that "Joy" is her name and I told her when she walked into the room, I was so struck by her wonderful smile and friendly greeting. Well we did have a lovely chat, but what I'm saying by telling this story is these are the things we leave behind. We are remembered by those whom we make contact. I always try to be a pleasant and happy person because people I meet will remember. It is what I leave behind. We enrich each other's lives in this way. Your Grandmother may not be able to let you know that she is taking all her "experiences" and reliving each one, but I bet she is. By the sound of her greetings to you, you are well remembered and well loved. She is a blessing and she is still teaching you - without words! You are blessed and thanks for sharing this wonderful message!

  37. I think you've got it right -- at least, I hope so. I know that last year I was diagnosed with breast cancer, the same disease that killed my mom, and although my prognosis is really good (unlike hers, which was caught at a later state and Herceptin hadn't been invented at that time), I have really kicked it in to high gear on getting stuff made for the people around me. Yes, you may be right, they may donate my stuff to the Goodwill after I die, but I wanted to give them a gift to remind each of them of happy memories. I'll probably live another forty years, but just in case, I want those surrounding me to know that I cherish them NOW. Keep quilting and creating. :)

  38. Beautiful post. You are right the only thing that we have are memories. My mother passed away a few days ago. She had Alzheimers but it wasn't Alzheimer's that she died of but complications (an infection) from a surgery that she had a few months prior.

    You won't regret going to see your grandma Leah, I don't regret going to see my mom when she asked for me a few days before she passed. I left work knowing that I would be losing money, but I don't regret it for a second.

    I got the quilt back that I made for her. It still smells of her perfume. I treasure it. I plan on making mini quilts for the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative. I am not a great quilter by any means. I am slowly getting the hang of free motion quilting. But at least that will be a part of her legacy.

    Thanks for the post, it is a gentile reminder of all that we leave when we leave this world.

  39. Leah, It sounds like you have wonderful memories of your grandmother. Not all of us are so blessed. But don't be too sure she didn't know you were there. When we went to see my daughters grandmother they kept telling us she couldn't see or hear us and wouldn't know who was there. When we walked in Mom looked straight at my daughter and smiled for the first time in months. So you never know. I am quite sure she knew you were there.

  40. Dear Leah - I really loved reading about your visit to your grandmother. Whether she knew you were there or not, your kind and loving spirit was there in the room and she probably felt it on some level. When my father was dying last year (almost 86) the hospice nurses told us that hearing is the last sense to leave as we die, so we filled his ears with our voices - telling him we would take care of Mom, reading from favorite books, singing favorite songs and hymns and telling him again and again how much we loved him. In my work as a preschool teacher I try to instill kindness in the children and I know that my parents were my first teachers, modeling and teaching kindness. I will stitch some kindness into my next project, thinking of your grandmother and my father.

  41. You have very beautiful memories of your grandmother Leah, no one can change them or take them from you. The memories will always be with you as you make new ones with your husband and son. I just started designing a whole cloth in memory of my mother. I'll do one for her mother, my Granny next. My Granny taught me more than any other adult I ever had the good fortune to be around. She is always here with me.

  42. Thank you for your honesty and insights. I hope the visit brings beauty and closure.
    Tina in San Diego


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