Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Broken Heart Syndrome and Grace

I do love this pattern of mine, first one that I got professionally tech-edited (thank you Yvonne) back in 2019 around this time of year. I do not love the reasons for the three times I've had to make it. This time is another tragedy, so I'm advising you of a trigger-warning in the content (death and loss) in this post.

One day and one year ago my nephew, Andrew, passed away at the all-too-young age of 32. His mom, Pat, is MacGyver's sister; she was one of our bridesmaids along with my two sisters. Andrew had a bad cold last November, but when Pat visited him to check up on him, he was having trouble breathing, and she knew something was very wrong. She called an ambulance despite his protests.

The doctors determined he had Influenza A. They had to put him on a ventilator to help him breathe. That was extremely worrying; everyone knew about ventilators because of Covid. However, Andrew was young and healthy; this was temporary. Unfortunately when they took him off the ventilator he could not get enough breath because his lungs were not working near their needed capacity. So he had to go back on it and that showed how dire the situation was. Yet we all still had hope; he's so young!

When we got the news that no, he'd passed away from complications of the flu, it was just unbelievable. Similar to when Tim, Brady's dad, died, I felt that there had been a mistake and felt out of sync with reality between what I'd been told and what I just knew could.   not.   happen.

Yet happen it did.

Pat has always been super-close to both her sons, but Andrew, maybe because he is the youngest, maybe because Jeremy has a family of his own, maybe because he was her, as she says, travel and concert buddy, and so much more, they were extra-close. This young man was, as his cousin Sheila put it, "such a light."

I knew I needed to make Pat a comfort quilt, but I wasn't sure just what. I knew it had to be purple, her favourite colour. I did not know exactly when I would make it for: her birthday? Andrew's birthday? In the end I felt it should be there for the one-year date, and in the summer when we'd talked about heart issues, she told me she'd been diagnosed with Broken Heart Syndrome, and that was when I knew the design would be a Grace quilt.

Broken Heart Syndrome?  Think how your heart aches when you're very sad. Yes, this is a real condition, also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. It is brought on by a severe stress, emotional or physical, which weakens the heart muscle, and can lead to irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, and other symptoms. Something I always mention when I teach a Yin flow for the Heart and Lung Meridians is that the heart is a cardiovascular muscle. It is not an organ, though like the visceral organs, it is involuntarily controlled. It has the same strength as our skeletal muscles.

I also often say when I'm teaching that our bodies are a journal of our lives, and that everything, on all levels, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, is recorded deep in our body. You've heard of cases where someone's hair turns white overnight after a severe trauma; Broken Heart Syndrome is in the same vein.

When it came to naming the quilt, I tossed around a few ideas, but nothing felt quite right until I remembered our conversation about our hearts this past summer. And so the quilt was appropriately named.

Of course it had to have Minky on the back, for extra snuggle power.

I was surprised to find I had so many purples, and so much variety in the tones and shades, from berry to mauve, from eggplant to lavender, bright and soft, intense and dusky. This quilt is actually a wonderful scrap quilt because the hearts, whether they're the 12" or the 6" ones, don't take much fabric at all. For example, the bottom half of a 12” heart is made from a 7" square of purple and one of background.

Being blocked on my design wall

I quilted it similarly to the other two I've made, doing one quilting design across the larger broken heart, in this case, straight lines 1" apart, with a variegated deep purple YLI 40 wt thread, and a flowing meander of floppy feathers,across the background and floating hearts, with Aurifil 50 wt 2600. Straight lines emphasize the jagged edge of the large broken heart. 

As always, many fabrics were chosen for their symbolic meaning: part of a butterfly in a mostly purples fabric, symbolizing that life goes on, rebirth, hope. Doves, or maybe they're swans or geese, (Canada geese!) for peace.
Of course I quilted both her name and Andrew's in the hearts

There are mountains for the Rockies in Alberta, and footprints for Rebel, Pat's little dog she got during Covid, who has been such a help to her this past year. Tears. No explanation needed. 

As I said in my presentation to the guilds last month when I showed them the flimsy of this quilt, that despite the insurmountable pain and sadness with this loss, there is goodness and hope within this quilt. Pat and MacGyver, well most of his family tbh, have been estranged for 20 years, yet when their brother contacted us to let us know that Andrew had been admitted to hospital, I reached out to Pat. I couldn't not. As I said to her, she could've told me to get stuffed, but no. She told me she had often wanted to reach out, but respected her brother's wishes, and she said she knows this is Andrew at work, because that is the kind of person he was, gentle and kind, a peace-loving soul.
Laundered and ready to ship. The threads sunk in beautifully.

She has been incredible in sharing on Instagram her grief. I have learned so much this past year, and I am so glad she is so very forthcoming with what she is feeling and experiencing. She does this with grace. That expression came to me as I wrote her the accompanying letter to the quilt. We need, as a society, to be more open to sharing our grief, but moreover, we need, as a society, to be more open to seeing and allowing that pain to be shared. Yes, it is raw. Yes, it is uncomfortable. But sharing pain is part of the healing process, not that anyone can heal from the loss of a child, but perhaps learn how to bear/shoulder/cope with it. Because it never ever goes away. My grandma's daughter Edith died of complications from scarlet fever when she was just 12, and my grandma never 'got over it'. At age 83, she broke down talking to me about it, and this was 44 years after the tragedy.

I know she will feel Andrew's love when she wraps up in her quilt; I know she will feel mine. As with other deeply personal quilts, I felt the tingling vibes flow from my heart through my arms to hands to fingers into the very fibres of this quilt. Quilts indeed are a tangible expression of intangible profound emotions.

Quilt Stats:
Pattern: Grace available here (*note that there are instructions to make an unbroken half heart in the pattern as well as the complete quilt in mirror image)
Size: 48.5" x 60.5"
Fabric: Scraps and stash
Batting: Warm and Natural cotton
Backing: Minky
Quilted: on Avril 
Threads: pieced with Aurifil cotton; quilted with YLI 40 wt variegated cotton and Aurifil 2600 50 wt.

Linking up


  1. Beautiful quilt! Grief is hard, and unpredictable. I hope this quilt brings her comfort and good memories when she wraps herself in it.

  2. So sorry for the loss in your family. I hope the quilt gives Pat some much needed comfort.

  3. So sorry for your family's loss. I'm sure your quilt will bring her comfort and help with healing.

  4. Such a beautiful and meaningful quilt, Sandra, although I'm sorry for the reason for it. I hope it brings Pat lots of comfort. You have a wonderful way of expressing yourself with fabric and thread!

  5. Oh, Sandra, another shattering loss. I am so sorry about Andrew, much too young to be gone. Your quilt will be a mending quilting for her, as she weaves her life back together without him. Her grace through this sounds amazing....even with broken heart syndrome. Blessings on her and Andrew's friends and family as they grieve and miss him.

  6. I am sure that this quilt is going to provide Pat with a lot of comfort. I'm so very sorry to hear about Andrew. I agree that grief is not something that goes away or should be "gotten over". Sending extra love at this very hard one year anniversary time.

  7. Your quilt will be a beautiful way for Pat to help deal with her grief, Sandra. So much love and thought put into every stitch.

  8. What a beautiful "memory" quilt for Pat. The love you have sewed into this quilt will surely bring comfort to her. I read yesterday an article by a Hospice Nurse and she said the difficulty with dying (which we are doing from the day we are born) is that we aren't comfortable talking about loss and death. That stigma makes it so much harder to find our way through grief. You are a loving SIL to make this quilt, share it here and gift it to Pat.

  9. Some quilts are just so much more than a quilt and this is one. It carries so much love and support in it. I do hope this is a continuation of the healing of the split in the family. What a tribute to Andrew's life if it heals that rift.

  10. A beautiful tribute to your nephew and a comforting hug for your sister-in-law. It is so pretty!

  11. What a comfort for Pat, Sandra. I'm glad she is expressing her grief and able to share with others who might be going through the same thing, whether spoken or unspoken. Part of my nursing career was spent in hospice and saw how people are so different in expressing their grief. Thank you for sharing Andrew's story and I'm so very sorry for your family's loss. It sounds as though he was a very special young man.

  12. My dear sis-in-law, words could never express how grateful I am not only for the stunning gift of love in this quilt, but also for your love and kindness. Andrew works in mysterious ways ♥️

  13. I've got no words of great comfort, Sandra. What a horrible loss. How unfair. From the flu?!! How is that possible? I'm sure these are all thoughts that have often been running through your mind and all of Andrew's family and friends. I feel for Pat but the silver lining in this is the reconnection to family. I hope the link stays unbroken. We'd hate for Andrew's mission to have been for naught. I'm so sorry for the loss. {{Hugs}} a bunch. ~smile~ Roseanne

  14. How sad. I know she will cherish this quilt and the love you have put into it.

  15. Beautiful quilt, so fitting. Surely it will bring some comfort ....so sorry

  16. What a beautiful comfort quilt for your sister-in-law after such an awful tragedy. I'm familiar with broken heart syndrome because, although I wasn't officially diagnosed, my heart physically hurt in my chest for weeks after my mom died, and then again years later when my dad passed (actually, it started a month before he died when he was very ill). You hear the word heartache all the thing, but until it happened, I hadn't known it was a very real, physical thing.

  17. what a story and an emotion packed quilt. the Quilt is gorgeous - the story and the sentiment is a tough one, but so wonderfully told. I think that grief is not really gotten over in the way we think, but I am with you, If maybe we talked about it a little more, or were open to listening to others when they share, and just listen... not giving advice or platitudes , it might help . I know she will love her quilt, and feel the love with which it was made.

  18. Hi Sandra, what a beautiful quilt. I know that it will bring your SIL some comfort as she is wrapped in it. Thanks so much for sharing the story - yes, pain does need to be shared. Thanks for linking up to Free Motion Mavericks.