I just ordered an extra ball of lime green chunky weight yarn for my 89-year-old mother so she could finish a hat. A year ago, I couldn’t imagine I’d be doing that. A year ago, my mother suffered a stroke. It didn’t seem likely knitting was something she’d ever do again.
My husband and I were visiting friends in Orson, PA, having biked there. In the midst of a dinner party birthday celebration, I got the call from one of my sisters.
I rushed home, changed clothes, and drove to Yale New Haven Hospital. My mother recognized me, but had trouble saying my name and those of my three siblings. She didn’t remember who my father was and that they’d been married for 64 years.
What followed were many batteries of tests, a transfer to a hospital in New London for three weeks of rehab, then to another rehab facility in Guilford, then finally home with a series of visitors: physical, speech, and occupational therapists. For months and months.
At home, I showed her a blanket she had knit, that was nearly finished before her stroke. Not knowing when she’d return home and what her skills might be, I completed it while she was away. When we showed it to her, she didn’t remember that she’d knit it. We put her knitting in her hands—and while she could mimic what to do with the needles, she couldn’t knit, nor showed any desire to attempt a lifelong passion.
With time she went from being non- verbal, immobile and unable to take care of herself, to speaking, walking with assistance and assuming her self-care. With time, she began showing interest in knitting. She accepts now that she made the blanket and that I finished it; and we found a simple ribbed hat pattern and yarn leftover from the afghan. She has a bright green jacket the hat will match perfectly.
Her progress, while slow yet steady, reminds me of how she taught me to knit decades ago when I was 7. By teaching me how to knit, she taught me how to live. What she exemplifies in knitting – patience, perseverance, and pride– transfers to daily living and to her recovery.
She knew she had to be patient. We had to be too. She persevered through all those therapy sessions, relearning to speak, walk, eat, write, and more. We helped her along, cheering her progress. She’s proud of where she’s come—though she doesn’t remember what happened to her, she knows she was ill.
It’s been both an incredible honor to witness her recovery and gut-wrenching too. Her memory isn’t what it was. She’s experiencing mild dementia, creating confusion.
We can’t have the in-depth conversations about art, literature and politics we once had. Yet there are sparks now and then when she reappears. She can understand if we’re patient, talk a little louder and slowly. She can show tremendous empathy. We try to find joy in everyday.
And when she picks up her knitting needles, she loves feeling the yarn, seeing the colors and patterns, and creating from nothing, something.
Like a lime green, ribbed hat.