Letting The Light In
In preparation for the "Speak Their Name" Greater Manchester Suicide Memorial Quilt, I've been researching the tradition around needlework and story telling and looking at how stitching has been used throughout the centuries to tell our stories in times of hardship.
In her book "Threads of Life", Clare Hunter describes how women in Japanese POW camps secretly made quilts from scraps of their clothing , embroidering the tiny squares with pictures and words to identify themselves and describe who they were and where they came from. These women often did not know if they would survive their ordeal and were leaving a legacy behind to tell others of who they were. It is an example of people in trauma who had lost a sense of self and were attempting in a small yet significant way of creating order from chaos.
As I embark on this incredible journey of creating the suicide memorial quilt collaborating with other bereaved families, I have begun to look back on my own personal experiences of life after suicide and my concept of "self" and how my connections with others has changed.
Speaking with other bereaved mothers, there is a common thread of our lives before and after the loss of our child, our lives are forever changed and the person we become is so very different from who we were. There is a longing to return to our old lives yet we know that the woman we once were has gone forever. It brings in to question "Who am I now?" I am living without a fundamental part of me and how can I continue to exist with this missing part and yet take you with me in this new life? It's well documented that those people who experience great trauma struggle with a sense of identity and I can certainly relate to that.
When Elspeth died I was working as an account manager. It was a career I fell into quite by accident at the age of 21 on leaving university. It was meant to be short term whilst I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with myself after dropping out of my course. Then I had my children, went back to work and before I knew it I was in my forties and was used to a good salary and although it never brought me any joy, it paid the bills and I considered that was my life pretty much plotted out until retirement. Of course life is rarely linear and maybe we are lucky if it is. After I lost Elspeth it became clear I couldn't return to the stresses of a career in sales, it was an achievement to get out of bed and get dressed. I suffered and still do with debilitating anxiety, I had PTSD and my way of navigating all of this was with sewing and knitting. In those early days I rarely left the house and did a variety of online craft courses, taught myself dressmaking, how to construct lingerie, I made bras, I learnt the art of fine Shetland Lace knitting, Fair Isle Knitting, I began designing and started selling some of my pieces.
This new me is very different and certainly I would give everything else to return to the person I was but the process of creating has brought me a joy I never experienced in my old career. In some respects I have found a piece of the 16 year old me that was full of hope, that wanted to go to art school, that loved colour and shape. In a world where the colour has been taken away and I have been plunged into an unbearable darkness, the light has started to sneak back in. No matter how big or indeed how small those holes are , the light always seems to break through given time.
The making of the quilt will hopefully allow others to reclaim their identity and find the part of themselves they lost when the worst possible thing happened. There is something magical about the art of making, it soothes and distracts and before we know it we have created something beautiful that contains a piece of us. In "Threads of Life" Clare Hunter describes the "potency" of patchwork....
"it is believed that quilts made from peoples' clothes transferred energy between generations, the dead and the living, mother and child, creating a collective human power, each salvaged piece transmitting it's own force of identity"
Not only can we reclaim a part of ourselves we may have forgotten, but through this process I hope and believe we can find a way to take our loved ones with us into this new way of being and carry their light with us.
Rebecca Jackson - March 2020