Noralee and I met when we were teens. We went to rival high schools, but we didn’t meet until just after graduation, when we worked together — a first job for both of us — at the grand opening of a local TGY store. It was a temporary job, and only lasted a few weeks, but our friendship has lasted for years.
Noralee’s son, Sean had melanoma surgery for a large birthmark three years ago. The doctors thought they got everything and he didn’t need chemo or radiation.
Like any good mommy, Noralee said she kept bugging him about getting follow up check-ups but he didn’t – until Nov 2011 when he began to experience a lot of pain.
By January the cancer was everywhere. As of the beginning of February Sean could eat and drink only very little, but he kept a positive attitude. He got to see all of his friends that last week of his life, and he passed away on February 22 – one month ago today.
It stuns me. I grieve for my friend and her family. I purpose to remember how fleeting and fragile life is.
Noralee says “You know, it would be easy to ask, ‘Why us?’ But why not us? We all have stuff we need to go through. God doesn’t love us any less because of it. I don’t know how we’d get through it without God. One friend reminded me that as much as I loved Sean, God loves him even more. Every day is a choice to love or hate, to get up or stay in bed, to laugh or cry.”
I have asked Noralee if I may share the following essay she wrote shortly after Sean’s death.
By Noralee Cole
On that deceptively mild January day when she found out that her brother’s cancer had returned and was terminal, my daughter conceived of and began work on the quilt. It was a patchwork of four-inch, vibrantly hued diamonds representing the colorful and unique life of her brother. Like him, the fabric displayed an underlying current of motion in the subtle pattern of watered silk on cotton.
Alternating diamonds of black highlighted the boldness and life in the rich jewel tones while reminding us of the darkness and finality of death. The colors paid homage to the active, humorous, friendly, and charming man he was. The rainbow pattern affirmed his lifestyle, one that her experience and faith did not normally acknowledge. The quilt honored the whole person her brother was and quietly blessed him.
Around the central pattern of simple squares was a black banner quilted with words of encouragement that she wanted to express, but couldn’t always verbalize. Health, happiness, love, and peace were just a few of her wishes for him. Surrounding that was an orange ribbon of cars, representing the overwhelming passion he had since he was a small child. She spent days piecing the squares together while our lives were falling apart.
Quilts have always been more than mere objects of warmth. They represent a woman’s capacity for creation. They provide a comforting embrace of love. As the functionality of quilts has been replaced in modern times with less time and labor-intensive blankets and comforters, the quilt still remains a creative expression of beauty and love. Like this one, they are often works of art.
When I saw it completed, I was in awe of the artistic beauty of the quilt. Then I asked myself a question that I could not express aloud. “What will happen to the quilt when he passes?” My sobs were for the anticipation of losing my son to this earthly existence. I don’t think my daughter understood that they were also in gratitude for her outpouring of love and acceptance for him; something he might not have understood in any other way and sorely needed.
My daughter poured her love into a quilt that was an outward expression of the care she gave him in his illness. When he went to the hospital it went with him and wrapped him in the comfort of her love when she could not be there. I did not see it at the funeral home. Maybe it continues to provide the earthy comfort and love that quilts have always provided to their owners. Perhaps it is wrapped and put away until grief subsides.
Thank you, my daughter, for the loving tribute of the quilt, a symbolic enmeshing of the patchwork of your life and his. As your life is about healing, may your hands continue to express your love and emotions through the lovely, homey art of quilting. And may the recipients know and appreciate the hidden meaning in each piece.