Last year, my friend Ted died from esophageal cancer. He was my seventh friend to die in seven years, and I was bereft.
Ted and I had been close friends for thirty years. By his generosity, he inspired me to be generous, and he also fostered my love of travel. Because of him, I have had some of the most incredible experiences imaginable.
For a number of years, Ted was on the board of an organization associated with the Vatican, and I accompanied him to board meetings in cities around the U.S. One year, the annual meeting was at the Vatican.
Because of the prominence of this organization, we were able to access places most people do not get to see—small chapels inside the Vatican, the Pope’s private gardens, etc. It was one of those pinch me kind of experiences, and I could hardly believe my good fortune.
One day, the organization’s tour guide asked if I wanted to come on a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica with three others from our group. I left Ted sitting in a meeting and walked over to the Basilica with the others—only to discover that the doors were locked.
Our guide led us to another door where a guard was posted. She conversed with him in Italian and then explained to us that the Pope was celebrating Mass on the Square, so the Basilica was closed. She spoke to the guard again and I heard the name of our organization; he nodded, said, “Si, si, si,” and let us in.
There we were, the five of us, alone in the Basilica. I was awestruck.
During that same visit, we attended Mass on the Square and were seated in the third row from the altar. As I looked out to my right, I saw a crowd of thousands standing in the Square—and there I was, sitting in the third row! The whole experience was beyond anything I could ever have imagined, and I was deeply grateful.
Shortly after Ted died, a law school classmate of his updated my will and did not charge me.
To show my gratitude for her generosity, I decided to knit her a scarf.
I found an exquisite silk yarn at my local knitting store and bought the three skeins called for in the pattern. Then I began to knit.
I have been knitting for twenty-five years, but this was the first time I had knit something on the bias, so it took a while to get used to the pattern, but once I grasped it, I could let my mind wander.
Knitting is a meditative practice for me; it centers me. The gentle clicking of the needles serves as white noise that blocks out distractions and creates an atmosphere of mindfulness. I often pray as I knit, each stitch serving as a prayer bead.
While knitting this scarf, I reflected on my friendship with Ted and the times we had spent together.
As the yarn slipped across my fingers and was transformed into a scarf, I was aware that recalling all of my memories of Ted was also transforming my grief into gratitude for our thirty years of friendship.
As the scarf took shape, it became a tangible expression of processing my grief.
As I knit, I also thought of Ted’s classmate and how grateful I was for her generosity.
Grief and gratitude ebbed and flowed with each stitch and every row of the scarf.
Following the pattern, I knitted until I had used up all three skeins. Only then did I take a really good look at the scarf, and I realized I must have made a mistake. The scarf was ten feet long!
What had I don’t wrong? Why was it so long? And should I take it apart? Start over?
In the end, I decided to leave it as it was and sent it with instructions to fold it in half and use it as a loop scarf. My note explained that this scarf was knit out of both grief and gratitude—and that each stitch held a prayer.
Madeline Bialecki grew up in Detroit and recently returned after living in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years. She began writing about her spiritual journey and faith life after the death of her best friend in 2012. She likes to read, knit, bake and garden. She shares her spiritual journey here.
Thank you, Bethany.
“Grief and gratitude ebbed and flowed with each stitch and every row of the scarf.” this sentence felt so true as I read it, thank you for sharing yourself with us Madeline.
Thank you, Tracy. I think knitting, weaving, sewing–any of those crafts/arts where pieces are fused into something new–allow for the ebb and flow.