Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Remembering Natalie

Last week I got to meet up with Richard, Matthew and Caleb for a few hours and hand over a community quilt I'd co-ordinated, from our ECE Grad Dip class to them in memory of Natalie. It was so good to get to hang out with them and catch up on each others lives again.

Back in May 2012 I'd been wishing that there was something more I could do for Natalie as she braved the cancer that was taking over her life. Sending cards and chocolate just didn't seem to be enough. With Natalie and I both being quilters a quilt seemed like an obvious choice. Natalie was one of those people who naturally brought people together and created communities of love around her, so a community quilt felt like the obvious thing to do.

I contacted Natalie's friend Charlotte through facebook as I knew she had been the inspiration for Natalie's quilting and asked if she'd help me organise one. I had no idea really where to start but Charlotte got drafting some lovely words and instructions to be sent out and I started contacting some of our fellow classmates asking if they'd be interested in contributing. But just after I'd got her first draft we learned of the quilt their local church had made for Natalie and it took the wind out of our sails a bit – was doing another quilt really the right thing to do now?

Then of course events over took us as the cancer overtook Natalie and grief took precedence as we all tried to get to grips with losing what felt like the glue that had held our mostly online community together. Ange being able to get to the funeral was really important to us and whilst I wish she were nearer I'm so grateful that life had taken her and her family to live in Australia too. But as the weeks went on I got asked by fellow classmates 'What's happening about the quilt? Are we still going to do it?' The fact that they had asked proved to me that we still needed to, as much for ourselves as for anyone else.

After some discussion the quilt went forward as a 'Class of 2008' project rather than a wider community quilt. One of our lecturers, Helen Hedges who had become a good friend of Natalie's, arranged for a slightly re-worded version of Charlotte's letter to be sent out via the University Alumni office and she made contact with Natalie's practicum placements for me.

Natalie's memorial came and went, I'm so glad I was able to be part of that – for myself and again representing our class. I really wanted to say something alongside the other tributes but all I could find were tears rather than words and folk had enough of those of their own!

The squares started coming in late January 2013, originally the hope had been to have a weekend in Wellington pulling it all together around Waitangi Day, but for various reasons that wasn't practical, which is just as well as the squares were still drifting in well after then!

Eventually, after chasing down a couple I knew 'were coming honest', I had 12 squares – these were photographed and laid out as a grid in a document and emailed to what had become the main decision/support group. I needed help – how should they be arranged? Did we need additional squares to make the quilt bigger? What colour/s should be used between the squares etc etc etc... several emails later the decisions were made – more squares as the quilt needed to be big enough for the boys and Richard to be able to snuggle under together, not just one of them on their own, and the hatching between the squares would represent the colours of Papatuanuku and Ranginui – going from brown, through green to blue.

The colour scheme helped decide the layout of the contributed squares which fell naturally into the three bands. I don't know how Karyn came up with the rainbows but they were just perfect after the 'Somewhere over the rainbow' song that had been played at the memorial. I really wanted to use some of the material that I had been given by Nora, Natalie's nana, when Natalie and I visited her the last time I saw her, just before Christmas 2011, when both of us left with an enormous stash to work our way through. I'd already identified some for the backing and was trying to figure out which to use to fill in some extra squares to fill out the quilt to a larger size when I came across a bag of hearts pinned on to calico squares.

These hearts had been cut out in 2010, Natalie had sent me a link to a blog post by a woman in Canterbury who felt called to make 'healing heart quilts' for the families of the 29 Pike River Miners who lost their lives. Both of us made a bundle and sent them off. I'd not known how many to make so had decided well I'll cut out 29 and see how far I get! I posted off 15 and then heard that more than enough hearts had been received and any surplus were going to be made into quilts for those affected by the Christchurch earthquakes in September that year. So as other projects were waiting, the other hearts ended up stuck in a bag and put to one side.... until now. It seemed really appropriate to use them given that making them had been Natalie's idea in the first place. The calico squares were smaller than the other squares so bordering them, mostly with Nora's stash, solved that problem.

I had hoped to get it all together and done by the first anniversary of Natalie's death, but as with making the squares, it all took a lot longer than anticipated. Partly because it was a really emotional process. It was almost like I didn't want to finish it at times, as that would be letting go, and I wasn't sure I was ready for that yet. Several people commented on how much harder it had been than they had expected to make the squares, not challenging in terms of skills, but choosing what to do, and then actually doing it. It really was part of our grieving process. Several others didn't feel their sewing skills were up to the task but remembered Natalie with much affection and admiration, the squares completed may be fairly small in number but they represent a much greater memory of Natalie and gratitude for us having her in our lives.

Apart from the grieving process having the responsibility for other peoples' work felt like a huge responsibility! I was worrying about not being able to make it perfect, and had been putting things off for weeks as a result. Then one day when I was thinking about it I heard Natalie's voice in my head saying 'Cs make degrees, it'll have to do, it's good enough!' Her usual refrain come each assignment deadline! I realised that yes, it just has to be 'good enough' or it will never get handed in at all, let alone 'on time'! That helped, it didn't speed things up that much but it did get them going again.

Well my second 'deadline' of Natalie and Matthew's July birthday also came and went, and I knew it was time to ask for help again – Ange came to the rescue by offering to do the dedication square for the back; knowing what to put, let alone feeling able to do it had been beyond me. I'm so glad Ange stepped in, her embroidery skills are far superior to mine. I'm just annoyed that what looked like straight when it was sewn on now looks crooked, but as it is quilted through as well taking it off and rearranging it just wasn't really an option. Hey ho, Cs make degrees....

Anyway, about a week after the anniversary of Natalie's memorial in September the quilt was finished at last, all I needed was to figure out how to deliver it...various plans to get it through to Natalie's mum in Kerikeri were formed and fell through. I kept hanging on to the thought though that the right opportunity would turn up, and it did - a text came from Richard saying they were over here and a friend was heading in the right direction for a work meeting and was able to drop me off and pick me up a few hours later. Just like that it all fell into place.

The universe works to its own timescale, that can be hard to handle at times, but that is life.


Monday, November 18, 2013

“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” Rabbi Hillel

One of the great things about being involved with Quakers internationally is that you have F/friends all around the world. One side effect of this though is that every time a major disaster happens there's a mad scramble for address lists and googling of maps desperately hoping that everyone you know is safe... it puts a far more personal face on the suffering and makes the news that bit harder to watch. What with the shootings in Nairobi (I'm fairly sure we went past that mall last year, if not it looked very similar but then I guess one shopping mall does look much like another!), bush fires in Australia, the earthquake and now the super typhoon in the Philippines and major tornadoes in the USA it has been a worrying time of late.

Yet again though the wonders of the internet come to the rescue as it is easy for reassurances to be passed along and news shared. So far on all fronts everyone I know directly is at least alive, however several Friends churches are on one of the islands badly hit and without communication so it is a difficult time for those in Manila trying to get news of them. Friends in Bohol have limited electricity, the storms just adding to the chaos of the earthquakes and aftershocks. How much more can their nerves take let alone the infrastructure? My heart goes out to them as they do their bit for the relief work there.

Whilst many of these disasters are caused by the elements and seismic activity the human element in the extent of their damage is frightening. I'm not suggesting human activity is responsible for earthquakes but we are responsible for the buildings and infrastructure we create and how well it withstands the impact, or more to the point doesn't and the resulting loss of life and limb. I don't think anything short of an underground bunker would've survived the typhoons and tornadoes though and living in those permanently would be pretty grim, however there is plenty of evidence around to suggest that our activities are exacerbating changes to our climate. Gareth Morgan has some interesting views on this and backs up Green Party co-leader Russell Norman's speech in parliament which our Govt MPs booed, Yeb Sano himself however put them in their place when he tweeted his thanks to Russell Norman for making the point. As far as Gareth Morgan goes I'm sure plenty C/christians will object to being tarred with the same brush and rightly so, I just hope they speak up and make sure that it is clear that not all people of that faith have their heads in the sand. Given the  recent commitment of five Anglican diocese to divest themselves of self of fossile fuel investments there is hope!