Trigger Warning: The following article discusses pregnancy and infant loss.
Hoy es Dia de los Muertos. Today is the Day of the Dead.
Over the years this bright holiday has been mixed and saturated with the macabre shades of Halloween. However, apart from both sharing a common theme of death, they are as different as darkness and light for that is what Dia de Muertos is. A bright and beautiful celebration of life. It is a day to honor our beloved departed as they rejoin us for two special days each year.
While every region has their own cultural traditions which are unique to them, there are a few shared traditions throughout them all. One is the ofrenda, an altar where photographs, food, candles, incense, flowers and other such decorations are arranged for the deads enjoyment and our own remembrances.
Four years ago, a new angel took a place on our ofrenda when our sweet nephew passed away in utero. With no photos or tangible keepsakes of his life, his memory has been limited to a name. This year, to honor our dear angelito, I sewed up a special Angel Heart for him and will forever be our lasting memory of him each year as we celebrate.
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Sewing Our Hearts Together
The idea of weighted hearts does not belong to me, yet when I drafted the Angel Hearts Pattern four years ago I never could have imagined the personal imprint it would leave on my heart. Each year as I prepare my home for those two blessed first days of November, and following Infant Loss Awareness Month in the month preceding them, I turn my thoughts to the many hearts stitched and sewn together in that time.
In their very beginning, Angel Hearts were designed as a resource for those supporting the bereaved. Their main purpose was to be a meaningful gift which could break down the walls of stigma, provide an opportunity for service, and offer something tangible to bereaving families.
Since then, this precious pattern has grown beyond its original purpose. It has taken on a spirit of its own and it has been beautiful to watch the ways it has touched so many people in many different ways.
A Community Initiative
I’ve mentioned in a previous post, a friend of mine who began incorporating Angels Hearts with her photography services with the Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep Foundation. A year after I introduced her to Angel Hearts she called me to share a wonderful initiative taking place at her local hospital in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Recently, she had asked a nurse to deliver an Angel Heart for one of the bereaved mothers who was still in the hospital. The nurse was touched by the gift and after delivering it to the mother, reported the incident to the Bereavement Director. One talk lead to another and they decided to adopt the gift as a part of their bereavement program, which provided grieving parents with support resources as well as sentimental memory gifts.
Furthermore, they wanted a day to include the community in their assembly of supplies. I was blessed with the opportunity to come up and present my story. It was heart swelling. Support had flooded in, in the form of fabric donations, time, and food. I would later learn as I spoke with the volunteers that many were bereaved mothers themselves, the most recent being only 10 days post-partum. To see these women stitching hearts with their own hearts stitched together was one of the most tender moments of my life.
(You can check out what we accomplished here. If you are interested in adopting the Angel Heart into your own local hospital, please send a personal message to [email protected] with details. I would be happy to share the process of what was done in Alaska with you or offer any help I can.)
A Gift For Everyone
I have seen hearts delivered in all sizes, with many sewists exercising creative liberties to meet the specific soothing needs of the families they are serving. Some have altered the material to become weighted heat pads, while others include therapeutic essential oils such as lavender. (NOTE: adding essential oils is not advisable unless specifically requested by the family as some families many have allergies or are averse to certain aromas.)
The matter of weight has likewise been an area of creativity to expand inclusivity. The Angel Heart pattern was designed to include angels whose weights fall between 1 to 11 pounds. However, some infants, such as my dear nephew, do not meet these qualifications as they come short of these weights or due to circumstances of delivery, their weights may not be documented. In such cases, rather than dismiss the use of an Angel Heart, the smallest heart filled generously with polyfill or a combination of rice and polyfil offers a beautiful tangible memory for these bereaved parents.
Following the event in Fairbanks, I assisted the program director by carrying some supplies back to her office. As I was about to leave she asked if she could share a story with me. She then turned and retrieved a canvas painting that hung behind her desk. It did not seem like much; mostly black with a very faint horizon of blue which streaked through the center as if suggestive of a dim moonrise.
The painting had been a gift to the director from a bereaving mother who had been working through the bereavement program after the loss of her baby.
Sometime after her child’s passing, this dear woman went to her local craft store and “cleaned them out” of all their black paint and canvas’s. For months, each canvas would then pass under the grieving artists brush to be dressed in the same fashion of mourning in all black. An expression of the dark emptiness she felt.
One day, while at work the program director received an urgent call from the receptionist. There was someone who needed to see her right away.
Quickly she arrived at the front to find the familiar mother standing with a canvas painting in her hand; largely black with a faint streak of blue across the center.
Eagerly, she handed it to the director. “Today,” she smiled gently, “I finally saw color.”
Grief is an process, we all experience differently. As is the manner in which we heal. While there is no substitute to fill the hole which pierces a bereaving heart, Angel Hearts are my way of showing up to say, “I’ll love your angel with you. I’ll listen to you grieve. I’ll be wherever you need me.” I continue to marvel and the wonderful way it reaches the heart of those who receive and changes the hearts of those who give.
Siempre llevamos la memoria de nuestros angelitos en nuestro corazón. We always carry the memory of our little angels in our hearts.