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it’s taking me a while to write the post. the subject has caused me many different emotions, all of which have been quite intense. when i started writing , i was very sad and angry, also for other personal things that i don’t feel like writing about. now i’m feeling more at peace and am starting to feel more hopeful in general, so i’m starting over.
on february 8, a mother found her 14-month-old son unresponsive in bed. most people know about SIDS, when a child under the age of 1 dies in his sleep for apparently no reason. but not many know that there’s another form of this for older children called SUDC, sudden unexplained death in childhood. these things are always terrible, but for many of us these cases are only statistics or faces without names. this mother, on the other hand, is blogs about “progressive” parenting and through her activity in blogs (her very profound and longer thoughts are written here and photos and more brief thoughts here) and on social media (here on facebook but also on twitter), she helps parents who want, but have trouble, to breastfeed extensively, co-sleep with their children, wear their children, and many other ways of living the beginning of the child’s life with utmost respect, contact and love. this mother has always been totally open with her own life and emotions and this tragedy has not been an exception. she’s shared her pain, confusion and anger with everyone. she’s shared a picture of her hugging her deceased son for the last time, as well as many other photos. but she’s also shared her certainty of having spent every minute of her son’s life in the best way possible, without regrets, and continues to urge other parents to appreciate every moment with their kids, to just leave those mountains of laundry and dirty dishes, and spend as much time as possible with their children in the most loving way possible.
this is a very quick summary and doesn’t get into the details, nor the many emotions. i don’t know this woman personally and i found out about her activities only the day after her son’s death, but all of her words, her photos, looking through their story through the blogs and facebook, seeing right in front of my eyes how a life full of activity and love was suddenly destroyed, well, it hit me incredibly hard. i don’t know how many tears i shed these past couple of weeks for julie and her family, but one thing that hit me even harder was how it made me change my relationship with my own son.
he’s now 26 months old, and each of these months has been hard for me in one way or another. his older sister was always pretty much a breeze, but from when he was teeny tiny, this boy didn’t sleep, and cried and screamed a ton. after a couple of months i realized that he had acid reflux. if your newborn doesn’t want to lay down, sleeps badly, cries a lot, it could be because of this issue. he had a lot of problems with the meds he was given (first constipation, then horrible tummy aches) and so i did my own research and discovered that a change in diet can help with acid reflux. i quit eating any sort of dairy products (i was exclusively breastfeeding) and the symptoms disappeared. all it took was a tiny bit of cheese or cream hidden in something i ate, and the screams would be back. anyway, life continued to be difficult even after this phase for various reasons. the boy is very strong-willed and active and, sometimes, also aggressive, but also sweet as can be, super funny and incredibly affectionate. i love him so much, but it was sometimes hard to look beyond his complicated personality and love him even during the hard times.
everything changed for me when i heard about sweet patrick. in a split second i suddenly realized the actual importance of things, which are important and which aren’t, and i found an incredibly intense love for my little boy. during his hysterical fits, which he tried to hit me and he screamed in my ears, while he broke the nth thing or pulled yet another fistful of hair from his sister’s head, i felt the natural compassion for what he must have been going through and feeling, too, and my love grew and grew. i stopped trying to night wean him (i had been desperate for some sleep and had hoped that if he didn’t get “boobie” all night long, he’d sleep better. i felt awful and it didn’t work anyway.) and i started bringing him happily into bed with me, letting him nurse all he wanted. i was so full of love for him that i felt my heart could barely contain it. and he started changing too. he became sweeter and calmer and less aggressive. the whole family dynamic changed. from the tragedy of one family was born a new way of loving for my family as well as many other families who followed the activity of this admirable woman.
as if this horrible tragedy weren’t enough for this family, her cousin was hit and dragged underneath a van, resulting in various operations, many broken bones and an amputated leg. then a troll reported julie to child protective services, claiming that she was bringing up her children in an unsuitable environment. government agents came knocking at her door during the family’s darkest hour, threatening to take away the other children. luckily the case was closed after a week and these parents no longer need to worry about losing their other children as well thanks to false and cruel words of a person full of hate (and envy, too, i think). but julie struck me once more with her positive way of seeing things, without losing hope or sinking into hate.
shortly after patrick’s death some friends opened this fundraiser for the family to cover the expenses of the autopsy, funeral, headstone and other similar expenses, but also to make it possible for the father to stay home from work a bit to grieve with the rest of the family. i donated (twice) and you can too if you so wish. (another thing you can do, at least if you are a resident of the united states, is to sign this petition to support legislation funding studies on SUDC. it doesn’t cost a thing!) but i wanted to do something else. this family’s story touched my heart so deeply, and this sweet little boy also gave me so much love, compassion and wisdom to use in my own family that i’ll always be grateful to him and i’ll never forget him. so i decided to give another warm and love-filled heart to this grieving mother. (you can find her address at the end of this heart-wrenching post. it took me four tries to read the whole thing.)
this heart is nothing other than a homemade heat pad. i’ve made other rectangular ones with coarse salt, which keeps warmer longer than the more typically-used rice, but i decided that i wanted to use the softer-feeling rice for this heart along with soothing lavender essential oil. the inner pillow is sewn from cotton and this is what gets heated up in the microwave or toaster/conventional oven.
then you slip it into the case, which i made out of the softest fabric i had, the bamboo and organic cotton velour that i use for some of my cloth mentstrual pads. this way you can wash it without ruining the actual pillow.
i used the same bamboo/organic cotton velour, but black, for the letter “P” (for Patrick, the child’s name) which i appliqued to the front with heat n bond lite. i made a few versions of the letter on paper until getting the soft, rounded letter i’d imagined. as the fabrics were slightly stretchy, they could stretch while doing the applique (which happened with cotton jersey in this project), so this time i put a piece of tear-away stabilizer under the fabrics while sewing, keeping the fabrics in place. when you finish, you’ll see that the stabilizer has already ripped along the sewing, so all you need to do is pull gently…
…and it all rips off. (i realized only after taking these pictures that i’d forgotton to sew the inside of the P, so i did it afterwards.)
i serged the edges of the pillow case to make it more washable, but then the fabric couldn’t get turned right side out properly, especially in the upper part of the heart, not having made the little snips all along the curved edges. as you can see in the photo below, i tried to make those cuts in the inverse-point, but i had to sew it again and it still didn’t turn properly anyway. so in the end i just sewed the heart shape a little further inwards and cut off the old stitching (in any case, i’d made it slightly too big the first time, so it didn’t really matter.).
i didn’t want to include any hard elements in this heart, so i made the outer case envelope style, so with two pieces making up the back, each hemmed and then overlapped so that the pillow could be slipped inside without coming back out.
my hope is that when julie or another member of her family feels pain, whether it be physical or emotional, they can heat up patrick’s heart and keep it close, soothing their physical or maybe even emotional pain a little. you can also use it without heating it up, breathing in the calming scent of the lavender essential oil inside. it’s a symbol of all the love they have for this beloved boy who is no longer there and of all the love that he’s taught to so many other families. rest in peace, sweet patrick, and thank you for everything.