Op/Ed

Ways of Seeing: Thinking of mom and knitting hats

2011: The summer when my mother goes into hospice, I decide not to go to Mongolia and to spend as much time as possible with her. My plan is to visit with Mom in Connecticut for three days every week, where she is in a nursing home with dementia. The first week I go, the weather is beautiful, so I take Mom out in her wheelchair and we sit feeling the breeze. She comments on the flowers and asks why the flag is at half mast, but can’t carry on a conversation any more, so we just sit. As a Quaker I am comfortable with silence since that is how we worship every week. When I get back to Vermont, my friend Nancie and my daughter Jasmine both react the same way. Why don’t you knit? Why don’t you knit baby hats? they ask. 
Mom taught me to knit when I was a teenager and later I took creative knitting at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine, where I learned the European method of knitting that is much faster. Over the years, I designed and knit sweaters, socks, hats, mittens and vests. I don’t know why I stopped 20 years ago. It might have something to do with the cost of yarn being higher than just buying a sweater. And I found wool itchy. 
I find it odd that these two who know me well have the same suggestion, so I look at yarn and needles in a local store. With help from the saleswoman, I discover smooth bamboo needles and soft cotton yarn with some stretch in the saturated turquoises, lavenders, pinks and greens that feed my senses.
The next week, when I place Mom’s wheelchair in the sun, I get my knitting out. I actually feel a bit like I am cheating, not giving her my full attention, but it turns out the opposite. 
Mom brightens up and says, “What size needles are those? You have beautiful colors.” And later, watching me knit, “You are a speed demon.” I have heard of Alzheimer’s patients relating to music. Mom wasn’t so touched by music, but she knit and sewed nearly every day. Among many other accomplishments, she made an afghan for each of her 11 grandchildren. It seems that even at this point, knitting is familiar and touches a functioning part of Mom’s brain.
Another week when I get to her room, she is asleep. I sit in a chair and begin to knit. She cannot see me as the covers are in the way, but when I lift my hand to pull out some yarn, she says, “Who’s there?”
I take Mom outside, feed her at lunch, and take her to the hairdresser. All through the days with Mom, the whole summer, I knit. 
When Nancie sees the hats, she says, “Oh, wow!” (as I hoped she would) and wants to sell them in her store. Over the years, the yarn and colors have stayed the same although the design has changed a little. 
And now, years after my mother has passed away, I am still knitting those baby hats, still enjoying the changing colors and the process of making something while I am sitting. Most of all, though, I love to feel the calmness of Mom as I do it. 
Sas Carey is taking this time to work on her memoir, waiting for film festivals to open to show her new documentary, “Transition,” and contemplating a new film. She directs the non-profit Nomadicare.org.

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