Shown: Vista Quilt made in April 2023.
Pattern by Sharon Holland. Fabrics are Kindred by Art Gallery Fabrics, also designed by Sharon Holland.
In the last five weeks, my life has changed in ways that will impact me forever. I’ve experienced grief in a raw, unnerving way. And in the middle of all of it, I had to stay creative and keep sewing at a time when I just wanted to huddle up and die myself.
I am still navigating through this. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll have better answers, but I wanted to share what I’ve learned and how I have lived my daily and creative life during a time of great personal sorrow.
As more and more quilters try to turn their hobby into a business, I felt this was a topic that needed to be talked about.
Because, for me, sewing is an extension of my joy. And when I feel sad, I don't feel I have the capacity to create. But sometimes we have no other options.
That was the position I found myself in during the last few weeks. I have contracts and social media obligations that couldn’t be put aside even though I was suffering deeply. Somehow, I had to find a way to stay afloat.
Before I share what I learned, I want to point out that everyone is different and some grief is more profound than others.
This isn’t a “pick yourself up by the boot straps” pep talk. If anything, I learned to honor grief and make space for it in my life. This isn't about avoiding our pain--just about what I learned to work with it.
There were some days I sat and just grieved. I just sat at my kitchen table and cried while my husband and daughter hugged me.
But those days were just as necessary and important to my journey as the ones where I woke up and was able to function.
So if you are in the depths of grief, honor that and honor yourself.
If you have the help you need, I’ve shared some of the things I learned on how to cope and be creative during a very difficult situation.
First, I would like to give a glimpse as to what was happening behind the scenes here.
On April 10th, my dad went into the hospital. He had been sick with a virus and just wasn’t recovering. He had a terrible cough and other complications that warranted us taking him to the emergency room. I picked him up and drove him to the hospital that Monday morning. Little did I know, he would be hospitalized for the next 26 days.
Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong during that time. We learned he had stage 4 colorectal cancer that had spread to his lungs. When they biopsied one of the tumors in his lung, they punctured his lung.
From there, he got progressively worse. The air from his lungs leaked into his tissues, causing him to swell and bloat like a balloon. Attempts to repair the hole only made it worse. By the end of April, even the staff of nurses and doctors and surgeons weren’t sure what more could be done.
I was spending every day and some nights in the hospital. Very little was getting done as I spent entire days by his bedside.
To make matters worse, a separate family emergency required me to begin watching my young nephews full time so my sister could go to work.
For almost two weeks straight, I was driving 40 minutes away to pick up my nephews daily and care for them full time. I suddenly had three children in my care with varying needs—from diapers to homeschool lessons.
Oh and my husband had accepted a new job that required 110% of his focus and also meant he was traveling more.
My life was upside down and inside out. I began having panic attacks whenever we would get another wave of bad news. I would be sitting there hearing something terrible and suddenly feel faint and like the room was spinning. I would begin trembling and want to collapse.
I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I felt like none of my coping mechanisms were helping. Prayer felt futile. I hated sleeping because of all the nightmares. I hated waking up because I would remember all over again that my dad was so sick and I had extra children to care for.
Watching my dad be so sick was especially hard for me. We have always been close and my grief was unbearable.
Although I had lost family members I loved before, nothing had prepared me for this level of pain.
And in the middle of all this pain and anxiety and depression, I had to make quilts and plan content and try to be strong for everyone who was depending on me. I still had a family to care for and a business to run and had to try to care for myself, too.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pretty. I think it’s important to acknowledge this. But there were three things that ultimately got me through this despair.
1. I kept going.
Winston Churchill famously said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.”
He was right. If you are suffering, if you are in pain, just know that any step forward is a step in the right direction.
If you still need to work and sew, think small. If something feels like too much, it is too much. Think smaller.
I learned to commit to doing only one thing.
I began to call it my “win of the day”.
If I managed to pull some fabric for a quilt—that was a win. If I thought of a blog post topic, that was my win of the day. If I took a decent photo to post—WIN.
If you are grieving or stressed, maybe all you can manage is to re-thread your machine. That’s a win. That is one step forward. Don’t discredit your victory. Remember—just keep going.
And I didn't just do this for my quilting work-- I did this in all areas of my life. I stripped down my life to the barest of essentials.
For taking care of my home, I boiled it down to three things that made me feel in control and ok.
I made my bed. I did one load of laundry every other day. I ran the dishwasher every night because dirty dishes drive me crazy.
And this is extremely important: I let go of all the guilt. Because here is the thing: when there is this very big thing happening in your life, you realize how much time you spent being worried over nothing.
Watching death creep nearby makes you not care if you haven't scrubbed the tub or if you forgot to return that library book. But it is important to prioritize anything that makes you feel sane. For me, it was the things I listed above.
During this time, everything else in my life either didn’t get done or was delegated.
Which leads me to my next point.
2. Lean on others
I get it—sometimes you can’t delegate. I faced that situation many, many times in the last few weeks. Sometimes I didn’t even have the energy to delegate because that meant spending five extra minutes explaining how to do things to someone else. And I didn't even have five minutes.
But delegate as much you can, as often as you can, wherever you can.
I couldn’t have my husband take quilt photos or make quilts for me. But he could pick up a pizza for dinner. My daughter could fold laundry. My son could help vacuum. We held a family meeting where I said, these are things that I normally do that need to continue to be done.
They were happy to help—I just needed to ask.
But, initially, that was hard for me. I didn’t want to admit I needed help or that I was facing something I couldn’t handle on my own.
But people who love us WANT to help. We do them a disservice to try to carry the load all by ourselves. So find your friends, family and let them help you.
The famous entertainer, Lena Horne, was right when she said, "It's not the size of the load. It's how you carry it.”
I was amazed at the support I received from quilting friends I have only known online. From messages to check in to friends sending flowers or UberEats gift cards—the quilting community rallied around me and showed me light in a time of great darkness.
3. Show yourself some grace
It was hard for me to admit how defeated and lost I felt. I was surprised by the anger I felt and my inability to manage my emotions.
One word that often is used to describe me is “calm”. I hear it all the time. “You are so calm!” “You have a calming presence.” But these last few weeks I was a hurricane of emotion.
I remember breaking down sobbing as I scrambled some eggs one morning—because my dad always loved to eat eggs for breakfast and I hadn’t seen him eat a real meal in about a month.
I had to accept that I couldn’t hold in my grief and, more importantly, that I shouldn't.
I cried when I felt like it and just let the pain clear out. I surrendered to the love I felt for my dad and allowed grief to begin helping me acknowledge it.
What I learned is that grief comes in waves, but there are these beautiful spaces between. And that’s where you learn to live again.
There are moments of calm and clarity—even if you are sad. And I began to embrace those moments and do as much as I could during those times.
I kept a list of work/content ideas on my phone—ideas I didn’t have time to work on. And when I had those moments of respite, I looked over that list and found the idea that was most doable at that moment. And that’s what I worked on.
I even kept a camera set up just to take photos or video quickly. I had to learn to pace myself, but also to be prepared for those moments when I did have time to work.
I’d always been an all or nothing kind of person. A never-give-up kind of person. But I learned it was ok if I only made two blocks. Next time, I would make two more and share those on IG. And then two more. And then two more. And eventually I would have a quilt.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, sometimes, for creative people, we can be perfectionists. We have an idea of how something should be or look like, and we have a difficult time letting go of that vision. It's a blessing and curse sometimes.
But in difficult times, what matters most is to be kind to ourselves. It doesn't matter how we get there, it just matters that we get there.
If you are reading this and going through a difficult time, please know that you are not alone. And remember it is ok to do the bare minimum. And it is ok to ask for help. And it is ok to just do a little bit at a time. Eventually, you, too, will finish that quilt.
And when you look at it, you will see your journey and how far you came and how hard you had to fight to get there. And I hope, in that moment, you will be proud of yourself and acknowledge your journey.
Grief is the price we pay for love. And when I look into my dad’s eyes now, I know that his spirit will carry on in my life and in my children’s lives. Love never dies.
As hard as my life has been these last few weeks, I know that I’m wiser now. Maybe I don’t smile as easily anymore. Maybe I still feel like my heart is heavy. Maybe I still cry more than I would like to--but I also take less for granted now.
I am grateful to take a deep breath. I am grateful I can eat. I am grateful for my friends and family who showed up for me. And I’m grateful to be able to sew and make beautiful quilts. Because even though it was hard to show up and be creative—quilting was the one thing that felt normal and brought me peace.
I hope these small steps help you if you are in a time of grief.
Thank you for reading and please feel free to share your thoughts and stories with me. You can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a DM on Instagram @midlife_quilter.
I wish you peace and blessings—and happy quilting.
My dad on I on May 5th--the day he was released from the hospital.