Finding Your Voice in Strange Times
We are slowly emerging from lockdown in the midst of Mental Health Awareness Week. Social media is awash with questions on how we are surviving with loneliness and isolation, with living a "new normal", check in on your friends, will we be kinder ?, dealing with unexpected grief, worries about money. A friend asked how I was coping , well really it has been just an extension of the last 6 years.
In 2014 I entered lockdown following the suicide of my 16 year old daughter. Following the initial shock, disbelief and intense grief comes loneliness and isolation as friends struggle to find the right words, some say nothing and so many of us left behind find ourselves cut off from the life we once knew, many find ourselves unable to return to previous jobs, we face money worries and sometimes enduring mental health problems. Often unsupported we have to find a new normal with very little in the way of guidance or government slogans.
I found peace in stitching. The slow repetition of sewing and knitting in the words of the great Elizabeth Zimmerman
"soothed my troubled soul". The more complex, the more it took my mind away from the nightmare I found myself in and gave me time to breathe and heal . It also gave me the confidence to start to share my experiences with other parents bereaved by suicide on Twitter, many of whom were quilting, sewing and knitting their way along this journey none of us signed up for. In that shared grief, that lived experience is a small flickering light that is called hope. We find our people and they hold us up in those moments when we cannot breathe, that is peer support and it is why it is so fundamental in helping people bereaved by suicide because for us we have lived through unprecedented times for much longer than lockdown.
In February this year I was commissioned by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (GMHSCP) to produce the Speak Their Name Greater Manchester Suicide Memorial Quilt. The idea came from one of those random conversations that just ignite the flame of an idea and suddenly it takes shape. What if we could bring together people bereaved by suicide and sew a beautiful quilt with squares to commemorate those mums, dads, brothers, sisters, children, friends that we have lost to suicide. This would have so much more power than statistics, it would raise awareness around suicide and tell our stories through colour,imagery and most of all through love. Through the process those of us left behind could forge friendships, find support and hope. I could teach them the stitching skills I had learnt on my journey and share ways in which I had found some peace from the whirling anxiety I often found myself in. Workshops were arranged , Manchester City Art Gallery were excited to be involved and exhibit the finished piece, Local Authorities were onboard and then Covid 19 happened.
I have been to hell and back and although I am not up to tackling a virus ( I know my limits) the quilt would continue! Thankfully GMHSCP were also on board. The Shining A Light On Suicide Campaign has done wonderful things to raise awareness around suicide and offer support to families left behind. Here in Manchester, we don't let rain stop play, and that support would continue. We set up a private Facebook Page - Speak Their Name - Greater Manchester Suicide
Memorial Quilt Project and during lockdown I have recorded video tutorials to share ideas and get people stitching. Quietly whilst big decisions are being made, whilst the politicians argue, whilst the world faces unprecedented times, we are quietly stitching our tributes to those people who were our universe. We are sharing our stories and out of threads and pieces of fabric trying to create some order and make something beautiful out of tragedy. The quilt will give us a voice and as long as we speak their names, they cannot be forgotten.
Hopefully the quilt will be finished in time for World Suicide Awareness Day on September 11th, our door is always open to new , would-be stitchers, there is still time to get involved. We are Manchester and this is our love song.