The story below was shared at our AGM. If you know someone who could benefit from a Comfort Quilt, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
March 4, 2015 was the most devastating day of my life, and one that I relive daily.
It was a normal winter day. -40 degrees. I went in to my custodian job at our local small town school with a list of tasks in mind. Shortly after the first students began to arrive I heard an announcement calling the principal to an immediate situation.
It is said often that at the moment of birth, a mother develops instincts and those instincts kicked in when I saw teachers lined up in the hallways as I walked down it. One stepped forward to meet me and I knew instantly that something had happened to my Jordan. My beautiful, bright, loving son pulled up to the school, waved at friends walking by, opened his car trunk to retrieve his hunting gun and took his life. My baby died that morning, and so did I. In that moment, with his decision, our lives were forever changed.
I know now why our bodies are created to go into shock. It is a survival instinct. Without shock, the pain would shatter us into millions of pieces. Shock helped me survive this trauma. It has been a long and painful journey to reach the point of hope. Knowledge is power, and the more I learn the more I know we can all play a part in making our world a better place.
Initially my focus was to get away. To run from the place of hurt. I left my job, my home and the place of sadness. I buried my pain for a year, staying in that state of shock. When I came home a year later, all of it was waiting for me. I spent the next year barely coping. I managed to get my youngest son on the school bus each morning, wearing my pyjamas. I met him at the end of the day, still in my pyjamas. I slept most of that year. I remember calling a friend who had also suffered the pain of losing a child and asking, “Is this how I’m supposed to feel?” My family and friends were a constant circle of faith and support and yet there were days when I wondered if I was all alone; if anyone understood, if anyone cared.
I’ve always known that mental illness existed. I myself had suffered from anxiety and depression, but never had suicidal thoughts. I was fortunate enough to seek help and look after myself. I had no idea that suicide would touch my life in such a way. Jordan falls into the 90% that gave no warning of his thoughts and feelings. He did not reach out and we had no idea. His suicide occurred 1 month less a day from the time he was prescribed a new medication to help a movement disorder. So many medications carry the possible side effect suicidal thoughts. You just never believe it will come true.
When Jordan was little, he loved to help me make quilts. He loved to choose the fabric and the pattern. He loved to iron the pieces of fabric and he mostly loved to roll up and cuddle in a finished blanket. As he grew, times spent quilting together were times when he would share the parts of his day, his thoughts and his dreams. Knowing I had to keep busy in the second year of living without Jordan, I turned to quilting.
My first project of Quilts for Kids is a collaborative one that brought women together to build quilts for children. Wanting to give back for Jordan, we donated these to the Saskatoon Children’s Hospital. We felt good knowing that a sick child could snuggle into a warm cozy quilt while in hospital. As a parent looking on, we all want to comfort our children, and these quilts are our way of offering comfort. From my broken heart, I offered comfort to another parents’ child.
In my third year of life without Jordan, I knew I could not return to the school nor my job there. I struggled through the changes of a new job, and new school for my little one. As busy as I was, there was no denying the anniversary days, the birthdays and the days of knowing Jordan would never again rush into the house with his huge smile. Most of my days were tear-filled.
When a co-worker pointed out an article in the newspaper about PTSD, I read it with interest. It was describing me and it reassured me that I was not crazy. That I was reliving my trauma every day. A very kind service man shared his experiences and invited me to join an Equestrian Assisted Learning group. I was blessed to join service people and first responders who shared their experiences, and this was the beginning of my healing. I realized that I was not alone and that there is help for us.
Last year I attended the World Suicide Awareness Ceremony in Saskatoon. I learned that mental health services are not as they should be. That when people finally do come to ask for help, they are often made to sit for hours upon hours, waiting to speak with someone. My own friend sat for more than 12 hours at a hospital, on suicide watch. Upon deciding to leave, an angel in the form of a doctor leaving her shift, met her. This doctor took her home for tea and a sandwich and spoke with her, possibly saving her life.
This spurred me on. I became determined to make changes. I don’t have a degree in counselling or in medicine, but I have a heart of love. I am determined that a person needing mental health aid should never feel alone. I know I can’t be there in person, but I want to give these people who are so scared some comfort.
I build Comfort Quilts of a specific size and material. They are a soft cozy fabric that offer a warm hug. My older daughter chose the symbol of a cross and a yellow ribbon to adorn the back of the quilt. Hanging on the cross is Jordan’s purple shoes. He hung his shoes up much too early in his life, and I want to remember this amazing boy.
There is a phrase on every quilt. It reads, “Inhale courage. Exhale fear.” I can’t be with each person who receives a quilt, but I can send the whispered words, “Don’t give up. Inhale the courage, exhale the fear.” I can reassure those who have lost hope that they are loved. That they are valuable and they are not alone. These quilts cover a person, a parent, a sibling, someone’s child, in love.
Having experienced the anguish of those who first responded to my son and to my family, as well as hearing the stories of those in my Equestrian support group, I know how traumatic the life of service workers can be. These people give tirelessly to others and the trauma of their experiences impacts every day forward. Comfort Quilts go to these men and women, to offer them a warm hug of gratitude and comfort. The tag on these specific quilts includes a helmet leaning on the cross, offering prayers and hope. It is how I acknowledge the effect that trauma has on their lives and the lives of those who love them. I thank them and send a quilt hug.
So far, 15 quilts have been sent out through counsellors to students, first responders, to psychiatric wards and to personal friends. A child as young as 7 years old has received a quilt.
My wish is that I could have been there at the moment my son made the decision to end his life. I would have wrapped my arms around him, held him so tight, and encouraged him to inhale courage. I hope these quilts bring comfort and the next time a person feels desperately alone, they will cuddle in the blanket and be reminded that there is help out there for them.
If you know someone who could benefit from a Comfort Quilt, contact email@example.com
for more information.