The Tommy Quilt Project
The Tommy Quilt Project consists of 20 lap quilts. They are memory quilts, each made from Tommy’s clothes for a friend or family member who provided enduring love and support in the aftermath of Tommy’s death.
The question is really how does someone put one’s life back together after losing a 17-year-old son to suicide?
As unimaginable as it may seem, it has been almost 10 years since Tommy took his own life. It seemed logical to recognize this milestone in a way that would mourn Tommy’s death but celebrate his life. Thus, the self-imposed deadline to complete a project six years in the making.
The Grieving Process
I have learned that everyone grieves differently. The experts say there are generally accepted stages of grief – shock or disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance/hope. Despite having worked through the process (with a lot of help from a lot of people) I still experience thoughts of guilt, anger and much sadness. To keep my sanity I have looked for ways to channel my energy in a positive way and keep busy.
Tommy’s tragic death has shaped who I am today and given me the strength and courage to be an advocate for change – change in the way we understand and treat mental illness, how we must break down the stigmas attached to mental illness and suicide, and most importantly how we can work to prevent suicide.
I was moving forward, but I needed something more. Something tangible, meaningful, creative, something new. Something I could throw myself into. Something I could control. At first learning to quilt complemented the hours of time with family, friends and personal therapy following Tommy’s death. At some point the Tommy Quilt Project became my therapy, my focus, my distraction, and an acceptable way of “letting go” of Tommy’s worldly possessions.
The Symbolism – Many hands/many hearts lighten the burden.
Completing the Tommy Quilts for the October 29 private viewing would not have been possible without the extra sets of hands to help assemble and complete the quilts. For this RoseMary is grateful to her ‘quilting divas’—as she fondly calls them.
The Lesson Learned – The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Cutting up Tommy’s clothes allowed me to create something new and meaningful to be shared with family and close friends. Each quilt tells a personal story, but it is our collective story that holds the power to raise awareness and advocate for change.
RoseMary will be forever grateful for the unconditional love and support of family and friends over the past ten years. She wants to thank everyone for sharing in this difficult but important journey.
Click images for larger view. Quilt photography (outdoors)
by James M. Collins Photography.
THE TWENTY QUILTS
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Quilt photography (outdoors) by James M. Collins Photography
Photo gallery of October 29, 2016 Quilt Event dinner at the Weston Golf Club, Weston, MA
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Photos by Ruth Shuman & Joe Pedoto
…the art of stitching together little pieces of yourself,
your heart, soul, talent, vision
using threads of love
– Jodee Stevens, meanings of life
Jodee Stevens’ description of quilting truly reflects all that has gone into the Tommy Quilt Project. And the Tommy Quilt Project has been instrumental in my personal journey from tragic loss to acceptance and HOPE.
The idea of a quilt grew from a conversation with a dear friend, a courageous and strong woman, working through her own grief. It was an intriguing concept – making a quilt from Tommy’s clothes. Intriguing on many levels. First, I didn’t know the first thing about quilting. Second, perhaps the answer to my conflicting feelings of wanting to share all that was Tommy and my refusal to part with any of Tommy’s possessions.
The Tommy Quilt Project would never have happened if it weren’t for the unconditional love and relentless support of my family and friends in the aftermath of Tommy’s death. It was as if I were drowning in a profound sense of loss, not really conscious of what I was doing or why. Without Dan, Valerie and my “sisterhood” of friends, I don’t know how I would have survived the shock, the pain and the anger of that first year. They knew what needed to be done. They knew when I needed to be protected or hugged. They knew when it was time to gently encourage me to begin living again.
As I slowly but surely began “moving on” with my life, I came to see The Tommy Quilt Project not only as a brilliant idea, but a challenge and a goal. (Little did I know that it would be ten years before achieving that goal.) Tackle something I had never done before. It provided a means of creatively challenging my energy, the opportunity to learn something new and to meet new people. I’ll never forget the summer afternoon in 2008 that I walked into The Button Box and began working with and learning from Catherine, Carol and Helga, not to mention all the experienced quilters I met along the way, all of whom offered plenty of welcomed advice and encouragement. (Thank you my Divas!!) Along the way I’ve learned many quilting techniques and challenged myself. What a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment!
I quickly realized that it would be selfish to make only one quilt. I desparately wanted to share something tangible of Tommy’s with those closest to him. This would be the way. Thus one quilt turned into 18 quilts, then 20 quilts, each intended for a close friend or family member. The fact that there are 20 quilts is a testament to Tommy’s legacy and all the lives he touched. Now they would be lap quilts, not bed quilts. After all there was a limited amount of fabric. There would be no running to the Button Box for an extra yard of fabric. And surprisingly, for whatever reason, as resistant I was to letting go of Tommy’s possessions, the thought of cutting up his clothes and transforming them into something new and meaningful was totally acceptable.
Tommy was known for his distinctive style. As one friend said, “I picture him with his big smile and distinctive, shaggy hairstyle, and certainly I always remember his unique wardrobe. It was a part of his personality, and I can still see him bowling with his baggy cargo pants, Hummer tee shirt, and an intimidating bandana tied around his forehead. I remember his yellow and grey jacket that he wore in the winter. I remember the fun we had on Chinese New Year and I love how he is wearing that yellow jacket in the photo with all of us together and Pete crouching down in front. Of course, he liked his baggy cargo pants and cargo shorts. The classic Tommy outfit was his 24 shirt with a braided rope-like necklace and a digital wristwatch.” Thus it is fitting that his clothes would be what I could share with others.
So work began. I carried around a black notebook. It was my idea/design book. About this same time I was making weekly train trips to visit my father in New Jersey. The several hour evening ride home was the ideal time for planning, designing and sketching. Sketching to scale was easy because, of course, it was a notebook of graph paper. The quilts would be comprised of 12 twelve inch square blocks, three across and four down. There would be 6” horizontal and vertical borders. Many of the squares would be identical across the 20 quilts, all be it in different fabrics. Each quilt would be personalized, with unique elements. I asked Tommy’s friends for their input and many of their memories have found a way into their quilts. And many of the squares are representations of my fondest memories.
– RoseMary Fuss