S is for Socks, Sorrow, and Solace.

I make it a point to keep this blog focused on knitting, fiber arts and other fun and interesting subjects–nothing downbeat or depressing or personal. I’m going to deviate from my rule this one time, because sometimes life punches you in the throat, and all you can do is vent, and pray for a sympathetic ear.

I lost my my mother and my Aunt Joan one month and one day apart from each other. They both passed in the past couple of months, during Lent; my Mom passed on Good Friday. This Sunday is my first Mother’s Day without my mom, and the aunt i considered my second mom. My mother had been battling liver disease caused by cancer for a few years, so her passing, painful as it was, wasn’t unexpected. My aunt, however, was diagnosed suddenly with esophogeal cancer around Christmas. Four days after Valentine’s Day, my entire family drove her to the hospice she chose to enter. Three weeks after that, my Mom was in the ICU. We knew it was the end.

My mother was clearly deteriorating while we visited my aunt daily. She needed a wheelchair. My aunt, of course, knew my mother was ill, but Mom insisted on leaving the wheelchair outside my aunt’s room, just out of her view, so my aunt wouldn’t worry, or know how much sicker Mom was by then. My mom always worried about other people before herself.

In mid-February, I began to stockpile sock yarn as though it were canned food destined for a fallout shelter. A couple of times, driving home from the hospice, I stopped off at a local store and grabbed skeins of yarn. I felt guilty for going shopping, it seemed so tacky and shallow. But I needed my knitting to get me through what I knew was going to be a rough patch. It ended up being a lot rougher than I expected.

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I drowned my sorrow in sock yarn. I stashed Crazy Zauberball, well, like crazy. I wanted bright, bold colors. I bought sock yarn brands that I’ve never knit with before, choosing simply by colors I wanted to knit with.

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Sometimes my hands shook while casting on. I couldn’t sleep, so I stayed up in front of the TV so I could keep working on my socks. I don’t have to tell you how knitting centers and calms a person; after a while my hands would stop shaking and I produced endless rounds of lovely stockinette stitches.

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I stuck to plain knit socks. I wanted some mindless knitting to keep me occupied and calm.

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When I realized Crazy Zauberball is dyed to not match, I gave up trying to line up the second sock just like the first and let the mismatching stripes form.

Day to day life seems normal on the outside, but it’s not.  I get up and go to work, but sometimes I wake up shaking like a leaf. I pull my knitting out when I get home, clinging to it like a lifeline, which, truth be told, it is. Knitting is familiar, a huge part of my life, and comforting.  I’ve been knitting for years. I will continue to knit for the rest of my life.

My Aunt Joan taught me how to knit–twice. Once when I was nine, and again when I was 14. When I was eight, she gave my sister and I each a beautiful doll for Christmas. This doll had a ton of clothing made for her, and my aunt bought several outfits as part of the gift. She also handknit several tiny sweaters and skirts for these dolls, with little faux mother-of-pearl buttons. I didn’t know she could knit before then, and she never knit again after that. She and my mom both knit when they were in college in the 1950s. They both dropped it soon after they got their first jobs. I dropped it soon after each of my aunt’s attempts to teach me. But I picked it up for good in my thirties, with some pink yarn and a little book. When some of the diagrams of knit stitches confused me, muscle memory took over and I slipped the stitch off the needle like a pro, thanks to my aunt’s early lessons.

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Yesterday I cast on for the Firefly pattern in The Knitter’s Book of Socks.  I think the pattern looks best in solid colored yarn, so I bought some Knit Picks Palette in the color Turmeric. I don’t choose yellow very often, but I love the rich, autumnal color of this shade. These socks are working up very quickly. I love cabling.

Before this past February, I had never been in a hospice or an Intensive Care Unit before. Despite the fear, uncertainty and pain, there was one positive thing that I experienced first hand in these places: the selflessness and generosity of other knitters and crafters.

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It’s hard to see because of the light pink yarn, but there’s a cross in the middle of this square. This is a comfort square. The hospice chapel had a box of them for people to take if they needed comfort. There was also a design with a heart in the middle. All were knit by local knitters. The chaplains also provided my aunt and all the other patients with a beautiful hand-quilted prayer square, made by local parishioners and blessed by a priest. My brother has the quilt mounted on his bedroom wall.

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The chaplain at the hospital gave my mother a prayer blanket. The chaplain was a registered nurse, and she and other volunteers knit the blankets.

Prayers were said over these items as they were made; prayers for complete strangers whom the knitters and quilters would never meet. That kindness, as well as the handmade items themselves. do bring me some comfort. They’re a reminder of something sad and awful, but they’re also a reminder of the generosity of spirit and the best of intentions given by kind souls for those who are grieving. I am motivated now to make some blankets to donate. In time I’m sure I’ll be up to knitting something for someone else who’s grieving. But for now, I’m going to be a bit selfish. I need some more socks.

Thanks for listening. I hope I didn’t bring anyone down too much. I promise to resume the happy knitting chat with my next post. Peace to you all, and Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers, grandmothers, and aunts, whether they are on this Earth or not.

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