If you were to design a patchwork quilt of your life, each square representing something significant or special, what would it look like? What would it entail? What moments mattered enough to make it onto your quilt?
I have to tell you, my quilt would be huge, way bigger than anything that would fit on any bed. It would be colourful, and vibrant, and would represent a conglomeration of memories and moments that have formed the uniquely complex and equally simple being that I am.
Undiagnosed mental health issues for the bulk of my Mom’s life shaped many of her experiences, and in turn, ours. Her mental health issues contributed to addictions that resulted from her own self-medication and some life choices that in hindsight, she might’ve made differently. I’m left wondering, what would my Mom’s quilt look like if she were still alive to make one? What moments mattered most to her in her time here on earth?
My quilt would have colour, because our lives were never devoid of colourful and interesting moments. My quilt would showcase happiness because the innocence of youth often left me immune to the impact of addictions and mental health issues for my Mom. And my quilt would show family, because family is what made so many of my moments matter.
One square on my quilt would come from a strong memory I have from when I was four years old. For reasons I don’t remember, but I’m sure had to do with our financial situation or who Mom was dating at the time… we ended up living in a three-season cottage over a long and cold Canadian small town winter. I think the owner was trying to make some extra money for those who were desperate for housing because these cottages were really not meant to be lived in during that time of year. Heating was a challenge. My two sisters and I were all sleeping together for warmth and Mom would leave the oven on all night with the door open to try and make the space as comfortable as possible.
Mom started up some new relationship with another guy in town and he was keen to impress her. I remember him showing up to my birthday dinner with a box bigger than a treehouse. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. Inside the box was my very first comforter and sheet set, a ‘Fox and Hound’ design - I will never forget it. Who knew bedding could bring you so much joy! Being the youngest of four girls on a single parent income, it was a rare experience to get “new” anything, most things were “new to me” instead of actually brand new. So not only was the grandeur of such a big box appealing to a small child, but original packaging even!!! It was like the clouds parted and the sun came shining down on me in that very spot; such a happy memory.
My birthday’s in November so the new quilt was put to use right away. I remember a lot of snow that year. So to kick things up a notch, Mom set up a space heater in the main living area. You know the kind – heat coils at the back of the unit, covered sparingly with a metal cage of sorts over top. The coils would glow bright orange and there was always a bit of a burning metal smell in the air. This, along with the open oven door, was hopefully going to pump out extra heat to keep us all warm.
Generally speaking, my brand-new bedding kept me nice and warm, but I remember one particular night waking up and feeling so cold. And I was hungry. As was typical, Mom had indulged in a few too many alcoholic beverages that night (she shared this with me as an adult, although I was oblivious at the age of this memory), so was passed out on the couch and nothing I did disturbed her deep slumber.
Now remember, I am only four years old, but like my sisters, I’m already very resourceful. I left the bedroom and headed to the kitchen to get something to eat. I figured I’d put my comforter over the heater while I grabbed some food so it would be nice and warm for me when I crawled back into bed. I think I ended up with bread and peanut butter as a snack. I headed back to my room, grabbing my blanket off the heater on my way by. I snuggled back into bed and fell back to sleep with a full belly and feeling super cozy.
In the morning, it became evident that I almost burned the cottage down, or at least this is what my sisters said. My beautiful, new comforter was sporting a two-foot by two-foot hole, corners singed and smelling burnt. My sisters were very concerned but thankful nothing worse had happened. We were used to some close calls, and this was definitely one of them. How I managed to not burn the cottage down with all of us in there remains a mystery, but the universe must’ve had other plans for us.
My mom probably lost her ever-loving mind when she woke up to see that, and probably had a few choice phrases to sum up the discovery. I don’t remember for sure though. I hope that she felt guilt over her evening alcohol consumption that made her sleep so soundly, but again, at that time in her life, maybe this wasn’t her reaction to the situation. I met my own needs that night instead of my Mom meeting them. But in truth, I don’t remember this memory as a moment of crisis, or awfully damn close to what could’ve been a crisis. I remember this as a wonderful childhood moment where I was hungry and cold and I fixed my own problem. This is why this memory would be on my quilt, as I think being our own problem-solver gets you far in life, especially when you have a parent who is struggling with mental health and addictions.
I have always found it fascinating to hear other people’s story - what shaped them, what brought them to this very moment in their lives, why they are the way they are. It is likely why I chose the career I did - I get to delve into people’s stories each and every day, and on the lucky days, I get to be an integral part of that story, if only for a brief moment.
So, I challenge you to take a moment to pause and think of the memories that would make up your quilt. What are the highlights, the pivotal moments that have shaped your experience? What if you shifted the kaleidoscope even just a bit and looked at memories from a different perspective, would it change your quilt’s size, shape or colour? Would it change the meaning of each square on your quilt?
I hope each and every one of you can visualize your quilt, cherish the memories and celebrate that each and every moment helped shape the beautiful YOU that is the result. You mightn’t be able to change the parts of the quilt already created, but you can shift the pattern of the rest of it. Head into each of your tomorrows with an open heart, a healing heart and a natural curiosity to create the kinds of moments you’d want captured on your quilt.