This was the last place I wanted to be. I was sitting on the bedroom f loor next to my recently widowed friend. He had called and asked me to help him with the overwhelming burden of sorting through his wife’s bureau and closet. His teenage daughter did not want the job Neither did I. Kim had been one of my closest friends since we met in college and this was painful.
Bob took a deep breath and slowly pulled open the first drawer, the bottom one on the right. He reached for a stack of neatly folded T-shirts and lifted them out. Setting them on the floor in front of us, he began looking through them, unfolding them one at a time. With an exasperated sigh, he said, “Why in the world was Kim saving all these old T-shirts?” He set them aside for the donation pile. I sat there stunned, because I knew what I was seeing.
Ten years earlier, I had made a quilt from some of my son’s T-shirts, a record of his early childhood in fabric. I included the onesie he had worn home from the hospital following his birth and the obligatory outgrown Little League and youth-soccer shirts, as well as those collected on family trips to zoos, theme parks and national parks. I had proudly shown it, my first T-shirt quilt, to Kim.
“Wow,” she exclaimed. Then she paused before asking, “Will you make one of those for Rachel someday?”
“Sure. Just start saving her T-shirts,” I replied nonchalantly, never even considering that she would be gone when “someday” arrived.
Feeling jarred by the sight of their daughter’s childhood T-shirts, I heard Kim’s voice in my head say, “Capi, you promised.” I responded to Bob’s question. “Bob, Kim was saving those shirts for me.” I gently took them from him. Rachel’s highschool graduation was less than ten months away.
As I began cutting up the shirts, I realized I needed more shirts to make a quilt large enough for even a twin bed. I called Bob, and we brainstormed about others I could include that ref lected her more recent activities and interests. He could not, unfortunately, start stealing clothes from her room. That might raise questions.
So, rather than resorting to petty theft, he contacted the national marketing department of the fast-food chain where she worked. They sent me a shirt. He ordered a shirt with the logo of her favorite Broadway show, the last one she had seen with her mom. He talked to her school’s choir director and a pastor, enlisting their help in rounding up shirts from a choir trip to Canada and a mission trip to Peru.
The manager of the hotel where their family spent their annual beach week sent me a shirt with the hotel’s logo. A local printer professionally transferred a photo onto fabric, one of Kim and Rachel on their last mother-daughter trip to New York City. It is centered on the quilt, a visual reminder of her mom’s great love for her.
I had always expected this quilt would be a fun, collaborative project that Kim and I would plan and enjoy together, even though her debilitating rheumatoid arthritis meant that I would do the sewing. Instead, it became a grieving quilt, every stitch and seam a tearful reminder of how much I missed my friend. Sometimes, while I sewed, I would talk to Kim in my head, wishing she could see what I was doing and hoping she would like it. When I finished the binding and the label, I said to myself and Kim, “Well, Kim, I kept my promise. Someday is today.”
When Rachel unwrapped her gift following her high school graduation ceremony, she paused, looked at me and asked, “Did you finish this for my mom?” My eyes filled with tears. “Yes, honey, I did. Your mom was saving your shirts so I could make this for you.” Whenever I think of that quilt, I feel such a sense of relief that I agreed to help Bob sort through Kim’s clothing, even though it was the last place I wanted to be. Being there meant that I was able to keep my promise to Kim and give Rachel a gift filled with memories of her mom.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.