My grandmother Brimacombe was a great quilter. She made beautiful quilts from old clothes, old bedding, and curtains. Each of her thirteen grandchildren and most other family members were given a quilt. The message behind her quilts was quite simple. Grandma loved us and kept us close in her heart, despite the many miles between us. They were a key part of the strong family bonds that she formed and cultivated. Her quilts keep us warm, safe, and reminded us that we were loved. I believe that quilts are like caregivers. As caregivers, we do our best to keep our loved one, warm, safe, and loved. The caregiver quilt has a complicated pattern and structure made up of four elements.
The Quit Top
The quilt top is a series of patchwork pieces sewn together to create an overall picture or story. At the centre of the quilt is the picture of the person receiving the care. Some of the quilt pieces show their physical, mental, or emotional strengths and weaknesses. Some of the pieces represent our caregiver daily tasks: preparing meals; giving a bath; shopping; cleaning; or taking a loved one to a medical appointment. Further out from the centre are the pieces that show what we do for ourselves to keep our sanity and keep from being isolated and overwhelmed. These pieces could be the yoga class, going out to dinner with friends, or just phoning a friend to share a funny story. Whether the patchwork pieces represent our efforts, our forms of respite, or the person for whom we care, they are all connected. Together they show our caregiving journey.
This is the middle section of a quilt that is not seen. To some caregivers this is the part of our lives that we keep secret. It is often where we hide our true feelings, our worries, and our guilt. The batting is only seen when the quilt gets torn our worn out. For caregivers, it is the same. We often only show what is hidden inside when we are worn, torn, or burnt out. When the batting comes out, repairs and other changes need to be made.
The Quit Back
The Quilt Back is a foundational piece that gives strength and shape to the whole quilt. The backing is not seen, unless you look for it. It is made up of our beliefs, principles, and values. These are often things that we don’t think about but shape how we think and act.
This is the part of a quilt that keeps it all together. The edging supports all three quilt layers and holds them together. For caregivers, our “binding” is our own circle of care. It is made up of our friends and our social connections. This circle helps to keep us sane, strong, and able to carry on. Without our binding, caregivers would easily become unravled and everything would fall apart.
What does your caregiver quilt look like? What do the patchwork pieces of the top say about the person receiving the care and you as a caregiver? Is your quilt starting to look torn and worn out? Some of the most treasured quilts have many mends and new pieces added. Is there something that you can do to repair your quilt or improve your situation? Do your beliefs and values help you be a balanced caregiver? And finally, does your circle of support and friends help to keep you connected and strong? Answering these simple questions will help you see, in your mind’s eye what your Caregiver Quilt looks like today. It also gives you an opportunity to see when a few repairs and adjustments could keep it serviceable and treasured in the long run.
Written by Mary Bart, Chair, Caregiving Matters
Her article is also published in the summer issue of Caregiver Solutions magazine.