When a quilting group bowed out of making the Community Memorial Quilt five weeks before its unveiling, Wanda Johnson, the volunteers coordinator at the SECU Hospice House, turned to one of her most faithful helpers.
Linda Stafford, an RN, quilts as a hobby when she’s not working or volunteering at the hospice house. In years past, she has sewn and pieced together at least half a dozen other memorial quilts, usually with the help of one, two or three other quilters. So many quilts, in fact, that a few years ago, she asked to take a break.
But this year, she couldn’t say “no” when Johnson came calling.
Last year, Stafford lost her husband, George, and Johnson lost her father, Edgar Johnson Sr. Because both women wanted their loved ones memorialized in the yet-to-be quilt, they shared an interest in seeing it get done, and on time.
Johnson chose the design, a stained glass window with black borders that could frame the myriad shapes, sizes and patterns of the swatches. At the Community Memorial Service last November, 38 families contributed 42 pieces for the quilt.
A friend of Stafford’s, Becky Strickland, agreed to do the quilting on a large quilting machine in Raleigh.
“We try hard to honor every request,” says Johnson, who contributed pieces from two of her dad’s favorite Sunday ties. “Sometimes families attach hand-written notes. In other cases, we have to figure out the story they want to tell.”
The quilt has been a bereavement project of Johnston Home Health and Hospice for the past 20 or so years, and it’s open to anyone in the community who has lost a loved one, no matter when or where they may have died.
At the unveiling two Sundays ago, the Rev. Greg McClain, director of spiritual care at Johnston Health, pointed out that the squares represent the unique life of the individual, and the quilting together, the connectedness they all shared.
After the services, families posed for pictures with the quilt.
“It holds a lot of emotions and memories,” said Patricia Thompson of Smithfield. She chose a fabric with hearts to represent her mother, Retha Hudson of Smithfield, who was a quilter, too. “She’s got quilts all over this county,” she added. “I think she would have liked this one.”
Lori Simpson wrote a few lines that captured her mother’s character, and had them embroidered on the swatch she contributed. Carolyn Hill was a prayer warrior, a giver who was involved with her church and community, she said of her mother. “At the end, she whispered to us to have faith and love, and to pass it on. She never stopped giving.”
Stafford’s husband, too, found joy in giving. He baked cookies for the departments where his wife worked during her 13 years as nurse at Johnston Health. Sugar, chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, without a reason, without a season, and always delivered just out of the oven, and in a cookie tin.
So Stafford was delighted when a daughter-in-law of George’s found a cookie-print fabric for the quilt. And to the swatch, she embroidered the nickname for which he was best known: “Cookie Man.”
Indeed, the quilt square made for a particularly sweet telling of his story.