Thursday, January 22, 2009

Memorial Quilts: Comforters of the Grieving

The AIDS quilt covers the Mall in Washington DC in 1996

In addition to their beauty, quilts are a tactile and emotional source of comfort. They have been used to commemorate life events such as marriages and friendships, and they are also used in death. In the 1990's they even took a turn at political protest, when the lovingly crafted quilts representing our friends and relatives who died from AIDS were assembled to demonstrate how much was being lost to the disease, and to wake the nation out of it's willful ignorance.

The quilters from Gee's Bend, Alabama helped us to see quilts in terms of fine arts, as these products of African and American craft traditions and personal innovation made the rounds of major modern art museums to wide acclaim. The Gee's Bend Quilts even showed up on US postage, and I wish now that I hadn't mailed all of mine.
Quilt from the Gee's Bend Cooperative in Gee's Bend, Alabama

One of the signature signs of the Hospice movement that has spread across the United States (itself a part of the Palliative Care movement across the world) in the last decade has been the use of a quilt. After death, a hospice client is lovingly draped in a quilt (much like a pall), and are taken, with dignity and reverence, out the front door of the hospice facility in procession. This runs counter to my experience in most all other hospitals and nursing homes where the dead are shuffled out the back door so no one is reminded of the fact of death, or of the deceased person. In the case of Hospice, the quilt, (which often does not cover the face of the deceased), is a symbol of warmth and love for the deceased, and a reminder of the importance of the occasion.

Another beautiful Gee's Bend Quilt

Some of the nursing homes I visit have special quilts that the nurses and other caregivers sign like a cast or a friendship quilt. Often the deceased is tucked in with the quilt on their way to the funeral home, and the family receives it later.
Memorial Quilt by Norma Bradley
Something new for me in the world of quilts and death, is the memorial quilt. This is a quilt made in the memory of the deceased, for the comfort of their survivors, and as a reminder of the life that was lived. The quilts shown in these last two photos are the work of textile artist Norma Bradley who makes these quilts to order for families in memory of their departed. The quilts may be ordered through Adrienne Crowther's Online Gallery, along with other memorial items such as paintings, jewelry, glass and urns at

Another Bradley Memorial Quilt
For those of us who enjoy working with our hands, and are going through the grieving process- or have a friend who is going through it, this would make a fine project. I imagine it would be therapeutic, and a lasting comfort.

1 comment:

Sentiment said...

Great post - thank you so much of reminding me of these quilts. I have a family I’m working with at the moment and this is something I am going to suggest to them.

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