Alzheimer’s, Loss, and Inherited Fabric: What do you do with it all? – Part 1

Alzheimer’s sucks, that’s the first thing I need to get off of my chest. I miss my mother.

Bridget's mother Kathleen O'Flaherty 2001

My mother was a huge part of my life. We were best friends (once we got past the stage where I was a 16-year-old jerk who thought she knew better). As a young adult, my mother was one of the most important people in my life. Like so many, I was unsure of what I wanted to do: I had tried university, and college, and working. I had travelled, fell in love and was at a crossroads.

My mother opened a quilt store in the small town where we lived and asked if I wanted to help her until I figured myself out. I had only done one quilt at that point and it was by hand. I hated doing it and it took me 2 years to finish! But I had nothing else going on so – with some indifference – I joined her at the shop.

It opened my eyes to so many things.

It fueled my desire to create, and it introduced me to the world of small business and being an entrepreneur. She opened doors that I didn’t even know existed. She encouraged me to learn, take classes and take risks. Less than one year in, she offered me a class to teach. Seriously, after only a few quilts and a few months she said, “Well why not?” and I didn’t really have an answer. That launched my life as a teacher, lover of fibre and the drive to succeed.

Bridget and her mother 2017

We went through so much together, and always bonded over a cup of tea and quilting. She always had time to dream with me about the next big idea. Then Alzheimer’s creeped in and started to steal moments of our connections from each other. It has been a long illness and watching her deteriorate over the last 10 years has been devastating to say the least.

While she’s still alive – I feel like I’ve already lost her.

I continue to try to stay connected with my mother, supportive and still see her, ignoring the fact that she thought I was stealing from her, or that she didn’t trust me and now doesn’t seem to even know herself, let alone me or anyone else from her life. But that is a hard place to stay. I admire those who can give of themselves selflessly to those suffering with this disease. My weekly visits are usually a short 5 minutes before her agitation sets in and it’s time to go.

And what does this have to do with fabric?

I mentioned she owned a store… and after it closed, so much went into her studio and she created for another 12 years until her disease took that away from her. She kept everything. Now I have all that everything.

 

The dilemma is not in just what to do with it, but in unpacking all of the emotional context of it. There is well over 500 meters of cotton fabric – mostly in small pieces making up about 1,500 pieces of fabric, notions galore, yarn, upholstery fabric, books – so many books – and lots of other fibre/craft related things. Everything has a memory for me: I see a fabric I know she used and it reminds me of her. I see a box she stored buttons in and I remember it in her sewing room when I was young. It is really like taking apart and dismantling someone’s life. How do I discard and give away things that were vital to her existence. Who will know how important she was, what she did with all of these things to make other people happy? I know that I will, and ultimately these questions are asked for all of us. The only thing that remains of us after this life is the affect we had on others.

However, these supplies are things I will not use in my work or in my daily life. They are taking up space for me mentally as well as physically and I have to move forward in my own life and work.

This is the hardest part.

I can’t even use most of it, it is not my aesthetic nor my interest. So what to do? I have had it in my studio for about 3 years, since she went into long-term care. It’s all in bins just waiting to be figured out.

It’s time for me to tackle it.

I’ve looked at many options, I have pulled all of the cotton fabric out several times. I started by just putting it all on the floor and looking at it. There was so much and it was a little overwhelming. So I put it back in the bins. I have to decide what the end goal is, am I giving it away, selling it, using it?

It’s not an easy task, it’s tied to so many emotions. I will work my way through it though. ( I have been for many months and will share some of my solutions in an upcoming blog post)

I’m sure many of you have been through similar stages and dilemmas in life, I’d love to know that I am not alone with this, tell me your stories, what did you do to de-stash and sort?  What worked for you? Do you have any suggestions?

A great site for contributing to the research of Alzheimer’s is Hilarity for Charity 

or the Canadian Alzheimer’s Association