Quilt Comforter

Pieces of Love stitches together a warm blanket of memories from a loved one's clothing.

July 20, 2002|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

The log cabin worked in cloth on the "healing quilt" looks just like the home where the woman sits on the porch talking of her husband.

He built the porch and most of the cabin. He died about 18 months ago, leaving his wife adrift in painful sorrow.

Emblems of his life are sewn onto the quilt like a coat of arms on a flag: the Yamaha he used to ride, the rifle he liked to shoot, the Fourth of July fireworks he loved to set off on his lawn, the cross he carved for his wife.

She reads the quilt like a diary or a scrapbook. Each patch was cut from something her husband wore. The center is a fabric-art picture of their home. Her name is Deborah Thomason. His was Alex. While she talks, their daughter, Samantha, 4, chatters happily with a photographer taking her picture in the cabin in Pennsylvania.

"He got interested in stuff and he would just do it," Thomason says. "He grew a lot of stuff. Part of the field out there was a big pumpkin patch. He loved working the earth and planting flowers. Broom corn. He made his own brooms. He was a carver. As you walk around the porch you'll see his carvings. He did some chainsaw art. He liked to paint and do ceramic work. He also enjoyed writing, too. He left behind all kinds of journals and short stories and poems."

On the quilt, the pumpkins are appliqued on the porch of the cabin and so is a corn fiber broom, and up in the corner two owls, the big one Alex, the small one Deborah. She's a smallish woman, 5 feet tall and slight; her husband was a big man, 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, a protean man who had a big presence. "He did," Thomason says. "The biggest thing for me was missing his presence."

He grew up in Linthicum, the son of a state delegate. She was raised in Towson. They met while working at a Cockeysville property management firm.

Jenni Sipe, 53, the "Garden Lady Designs" fabric artist of Stewartstown, Pa., created the quilt, with lots of suggestions from Thomason and help from her business partner, Leslie Delp, 42, a bereavement counselor. Delp had been working with Thomason since the death of her husband. Sipe and Delp are longtime friends who, while watching their sons play baseball, used to talk about going into business together. About a year ago they formed Pieces of Love - Memory Keepsakes to make healing quilts.

Comforting memorabilia

Delp earned a master's degree in counseling psychology at Towson University. She's active in grief and loss counseling in York County, where she runs Camp Mend-A-Heart for young people who've lost a loved one. She's organizing a new, permanent bereavement center named Olivia's House, for a little girl who assuaged her own grief at the loss of her mother by helping another girl. And Delp is absolutely convinced of the therapeutic value of the quilts.

"I knew that children needed something to wrap up in," she says. "They needed a way to do therapy where they weren't feeling like there was something wrong with them. All children wrap up in blankets, but these are very special blankets that they help to create, and that means a lot to them."

The scent that persists in clothing is very comforting to children, she says, and adults as well.

Sipe made her first healing quilt for Delp, who lost the son she was expecting during the eighth month of her pregnancy.

"He would have been 22 this fall," Delp says. "You age your children that way when they die before you. You measure your life with their life."

Her quilt is made of clothes she bought for him and clothes she wore when she met her husband and when they went to school together and when they got married. "A pieces of love quilt," Delp says.

Sipe and Delp made a quilt for the family of Gene Gladfelter, a well-known biathlete from York who was only 38 when he died of Lou Gehrig's disease last July.

"He was actually one of Leslie's clients in her counseling program," Sipe says. "We met him and his wife a month before he died to talk about the quilts. ... He had special T-shirts he wanted in each quilt. He had them picked out."

With her help, he designed quilts for his wife, mother and children, Gracie, 6, and Gabriel, 8.

"He didn't want to die at an early age and not have his life be marked," Delp says. "So he left beautiful scrapbooks, and he left each of his children a journal. He typed them. When he no longer could use his hands he was able to peck on the computer with one or two fingers. That's what kept him going. He wanted the children's children and their children to know the races he ran."

He did his last race in a wheelchair and parts of that T-shirt are in all the quilts. The race is now called the Gene Gladfelter Memorial Run.

"And Gabe will tell you he will wrap up in his quilt when he needs to relax, when grief energy is more than he can handle as an 8-year-old," Delp says. "There's a special tree he likes to go to, and he climbs up in the tree and wraps himself in his quilt."

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