A few months ago I wrote about the mystery of the quilt my mother wouldn’t make for me. She stopped and started the quilt for more than 20 years. The part of the story that confounded me was that for the years my mom was in dementia care and in the years since she died, no one has been able to complete the quilt. People want to take it, but once they have it, their energy wanes.
Something happens to each person who offers to work on the quilt. Months or years after I hand the quilt over, I get it back, stuffed into a black trash bag and handed back quickly, as if it were an illegal transaction. Or one of mourning.
After I wrote about the quilt, many readers made kind and thoughtful suggestions (you can read that blog post here) of what I should do with the quilt. Some offered to make me a new quilt, which was touching and amazing to me.
There were also a few mothers with difficult daughters who wondered if I might have been on the other end of the perspective. Maybe. And at the end, I promised to tell you what I would do with the quilt.
I’ve thought about it for a long time. Here’s what we know: The colors (Williamsburg blue and milk chocolate brown with touches of ivory and burnt orange) are not a palette I’d choose. (Notice I’m not saying it wouldn’t match my walls or the couch–I don’t think art has to do that). The calico my mother used was not the cotton of today, and the fabric has degraded over the years.
I took the quilt to meditation and was struck by three shockingly clear facts:
1. The proof, rather than the quilt, was what I was after. I wanted my mother to love me, and prove it by making me a quilt. She made quilts for so many others, why not me? That idea set many years ago, and I never questioned it. When I did, the answer was–my mother did not finish the quilt. I need to accept that as I have accepted the other truths that didn’t taste great the more I chewed on them.
2. If the quilt were finished, what, exactly, did I want to do with it? I did not want it to cover my bed. Don’t like the color, the design is incomplete, and it would be a reminder of the whole story of loss, every day.
3. The fate of the quilt would be to lie folded in a box in the garage, degrading some more until I pass it on to a relative whose history it doesn’t fit, and who does not need to continue the story.
It took a long time for me to mourn what I did not have and to decide on the next step. Part of my business is designing rituals for others. I join people in marriage or commitment; create and perform sacred ceremonies; end of life transitions; house selling, moving and new home blessings; even new job celebrations. What I needed was a ritual for letting go of the quilt. Vicky, one of my readers, has left the comment, “Burn it.” When I read it, I was shocked. And I knew she was right.
The quilt has served its purpose, and it is time to transition the quilt to another use. I am going to bundle it up, write a letter to my mother, releasing her go of the obligations to complete this quilt or prove she loves me. I will then burn the quilt and letters and save the ashes. The ashes will be mixed with water-soluble varnish and distilled water and become ink. I’ll use the ink to record the history of the quilt in a journal. My mother was the quilter. I am the writer, and the quilt will find a purpose in the way I know how to use it. The lessons of the quilt can be passed on
- No one can be forced to love you.
- “If you loved me you would. . . .” is a sentence that is about control, not love.
- Loving yourself starts when you accept yourself and know you cannot change the past. Everything else comes after that.
When the day comes to burn the quilt, I will invite people to create their own ceremonies of letting go–of failed love, of regret, of a loss that won’t heal. Whether you burn old love letters or set your sorrows afloat, tied to a stick that you drop into a river, it will be a day to celebrate your own strength.
Take photos and write your stories, and we will create a blog chain of support and celebrate the power of letting go. I’m thinking that October is a good month to do this. I’ll remind you from time to time about your plan, so you will be ready. It will feel incredible light and right to let go.
–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and writer. Her word for this year is “let go.”