A Quilt is More than Fragments

Picture of Stella Fosse

Stella Fosse

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A Quilt is More than Fragments

By age 92 my mother was no longer independent, though she lived in the house my parents had bought sixty years before. My brother and I were far away, and Mom depended on the kindness of neighbors and a bit of hired help to shop for her, do her laundry, and vacuum her rugs. Mom’s car rusted, undriven for years, in the driveway. The neighbors were burning out; one confronted my brother on a visit and asked why he hadn’t stepped up and put Mom in a care home.

“I would,” he said, “if she would go.”

Board and Care

An emergency hospital visit changed all that. The hospital refused to discharge Mom without a placement, and my brother, who at least lived in the same state, found her a room in a Board and Care home that looked a lot like her house. As the former Director of Nurses in a convalescent hospital, my mother had no illusions about this stage of life. “This is where they send people to die,” Mom told me on the phone.

The care home was expensive. My brother and the neighbors cleared out the family house to sell. Becky from down the street packed up all the clothes left in Mom’s closet and stashed them at her house. She had a plan.

Soon Mom took to her bed in the Board and Care and refused to get up. She lay next to a big picture window with a view of a garden, “I can see my house out of this window,” she would say.

I’d fly out to sit with her a couple times a year and hold her hand. Her room was full of pictures of her nursing career, her children and grandchildren and great-grands, spurs to her fading memory. This was the mom who saved every letter I ever wrote to her, every business card from my rise in corporate life.

Once, as I sat with her in the Board and Care she said to me, “I think there was a time when you and I didn’t talk. Why was that?”

I reminded her how I’d told her that my dad had abused me, and how she denied it, and that I’d needed space for years. She looked baffled.

“But I know you’re sorry,” I said, though I knew no such thing, “and I forgive you.”

Was I telling the truth? As much truth as needed to be told.

The last time I saw my mother was Christmas of 2019. Once the pandemic hit, I did not board a plane for years. She asked me all the time when I would visit, and I just said, “When it’s safe.”

But I spoke with Mom by phone every day, including Thanksgiving 2020.

“Will you have pumpkin pie today?” I asked, because that was her favorite.

“I hope so,” she said.

That afternoon, the retired minister who often visited Mom brought her a whole pie from a Thanksgiving potluck. But by then she was gone.

Memory Quilt


More than Fragments - a photo of the quilt on a bed.

Two years after Mom died, Becky told us she had washed all Mom’s clothes and if we wanted, she would send them to her friend who makes memory quilts. It took all of us, children and grandchildren, a year to decide. In the end, three of us asked for quilts. Mine was the last and arrived last month, in March.

The quilt is stunningly beautiful, although Mom’s clothes were not. I laid the quilt out on the guest room bed. On Saturdays, when I vacuum, I stop and sit in a chair and look at it. There are pieces of a muumuu I brought her back from Hawaii in 1980, when I was pregnant with my twin sons. There are fragments of blouses I remember her wearing, and pieces of clothes I don’t recall, from the years she and I were estranged. The quilt backing is a dark green surgical sheet from the hospital where Mom worked when I was a kid; the nurses took the linen sheets home when the hospital converted to paper.

The woman who made the quilt is an artist. The colors fit together in a way life never does while we live it.

More than Fragments

When I bake with my mother’s measuring spoons I remember cooking with her as a child. When I wear Mom’s jewelry, I remember times when she dressed up. But sitting with this memory quilt knits together the years I knew my mother and the years I did not.

All the memories are there, the complexity, the unsolved mysteries of my mother’s life. A quilt is more than fragments. It is the puzzle solved in cloth, laid out to be admired.

I see my own clothes differently now, the pieces I’ve just bought, the old standbys I’ve worn for decades. A trip to my closet is like opening the book I’m writing: You can’t see the whole yet, but the pieces are there.

20 Responses

  1. My daughter made that beautiful quilt. I’m so proud of what she does to keep memories fresh with love.

  2. Stella, I loved the story. I sewed many dresses for my mother and myself and when my son was born I made a quilt of fabric from some of those dresses and my maternity tops. When babysitting my grandson I saw that the quilt I made was draped over the rocking chair that was mine and each fabric square had such a sweet memory. The neighbor had wonderful foresight to keep your mother’s clothes until such time she would afford you the opportunity to relive memories of your mother again. Bless you.

  3. Stella –
    This is such a wonderful way to pay tribute to your mom! Thanks for sharing – I am now helping my husband deal with his mom who has been moved to a Health Center Facility after a fall last year. She is celebrating her 91st birthday this week. And she loves quilts! A memory quilt is an awesome idea.

  4. What a wonderful way to honor your mother. Some wounds don’t heal, they merely scar over and don’t cut as deep as they used to.

  5. Beautifully written,Stella! I’d love to have a memory quilt made up of my mom’s favorite clothing.

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