Grief like yarn


Whitney Veazey, Staff Photographer

I think there’s something to be said about how we tend to heal ourselves, and the ways in which we roll up our sleeves to make warmth when it cannot be found anywhere else.

My mother spent 20 years crocheting the same blanket.

Now there are plenty of crazy crochet patterns out there consisting of complex stitches called things like “triplet twisted interlocking double crossover cable knot” which embellish one’s piece with blooming bouts of flowers and intricate doilies. These are the kind of works which demand you marvel at the maker’s sheer amount of skill, time and patience – but this was not the case with Mama.

Piled up in the corner of my parents’ bedroom, for as long as I can remember, was a simple green afghan blanket umbilically attached to the same years-old skein of yarn.

I was around four when my dad’s mom came to live with us. She’d been diagnosed with dementia shortly after my grandfather’s death and couldn’t live on her own anymore. 

Beginning around this same time, my mom’s mother also became severely ill. It seemed the indulgences of her youth had caught up to her, and my mom along with her step-dad were left to deal with the consequences of decades worth of alcoholism.

I learned quickly that there aren’t many constants in life, but among the scarce certainties was the green blanket slouching in the corner of my parents’ room. She’d started it a few years before I was born, and I actually remember the first time it was almost finished. 

My dad at this point was working around 60 hours a week to pay the bills (we love an economic recession), so my mom became the primary caregiver to my sister, my grandma, her own mother, and I.

It wasn’t uncommon for my parents to argue during this time over minuscule things I’m sure neither of them nor I could even recall now; but what I do know is that at some point between juggling all the lives that rested in my mom’s hands, the blanket that my father had already congratulated her on finishing suddenly unraveled down to its first two rows. 

It was a joke my dad made for a long time. 

“I don’t know why y’mama always does this. ‘Bout every time she’s got the daggum thing finished, there she goes pullin’ it apart again,” he’d exclaim with a disapproving head shake.

And most people would agree, it shouldn’t take twenty years to make a blanket. 

For a long time I didn’t really understand it, nor did I understand a lot of things about Mama. It started when I was little and I didn’t understand why she was always leaving me at my great aunt’s doorstep in the middle of the night to rush off to the ER, or why she’d come home yelling at everyone so much after spending all day with her mom. 

And as I got older, and learned more about her childhood, I mostly didn’t understand why my mom put up with so much from the woman who basically forfeited her to her stepmother to take care of; because even during the 21 years my mom suffered with debilitating congenital epilepsy, and it looked as if she may never live a normal life, my grandmother was at the bar. 

But for fourteen years my mom sat at her mom’s hospital bedside, enduring the nagging and complaints while quietly crocheting.

Through all of that time, the size of the blanket would continue to wax and wane. That is until May 22, 2021 – the day before I turned 17. In the early morning hours, my bedroom door opened and Mama stood there in the stairwell light, weeping. 

She quivered like a little girl; and despite being so big and nearly-seventeen now, I’d never felt so small in my life. 

Suddenly my infantile arms weren’t long enough to wrap around her, and my chest wasn’t yet soft enough to cradle her head in. 

Don’t get me wrong, my mom and grandmother’s relationship had been long repaired and well atoned for by the time she passed. My sister and I were lucky enough to have a great relationship with her growing up, and we all spent countless weekends together enjoying ourselves as a family. 

But in that moment, I felt my mom unraveling in a way I’d never seen before. All the years of progress seemed to be slipping down her face and I knew I was powerless to do anything about it. Mama was going to feel what she needed to on her own terms.

Over the next year I watched my mom heal. She didn’t have to worry about getting my grandmother to this doctor or that one, or make plans to take care of her after whatever surgery she was having that month anymore. My dad and I both pointed out to each other how mellow and stable my mom had become. It wasn’t that she didn’t love her mother dearly (otherwise she would’ve never taken care of her), but after the stress and uncertainty was gone we could tell how she was beginning to bloom. 

With all her new free time my mom crocheted so much that she ran out of her original yarn, and took my sister and I with her to try and find the closest match. 

Then finally one afternoon this past June, at 18 years old, I walked into the living room to be surprised by that blanket being displayed proudly over the top of the couch – completed. I found my mom, gave her a hug, and marveled at how pretty it was when it wasn’t slouched over in the corner of the bedroom.

I think that too often we don’t give ourselves the room or permission to heal. We always poked fun at my mom for starting over so many times, but I think that a lot of us find comfort in familiar and predictable pains. I know that in my life there have been times where the anxiety of getting hurt again after moving on from something outweighed the misery in already being hurt. I think we tend to knit our grief into a sort of security blanket, a never-ending project shielding us from the risks that come with being liberated of it because “hey, why bother standing up just to get knocked down again?”

But I hope that anyone reading this who may be on the edge of moving on feels even the slightest bit encouraged to finally give yourself the permission to heal and begin the next chapter in your life, no matter how long it’s taken you.