It’s Thursday, which means a lot of things in the Marston-Simmons home, but the thing we look forward to each week since Caemon died is our Thursday Craft Night. Shortly after our son’s death, two friends from our moms’ group decided that the best way to help us through this immeasurable pain was to help distribute the weight, and somehow through this offer, our sacred craft night was born.
I remember one of these friends, just a few days after Caemon died, telling me about a woman she knew whose child died of leukemia, and this woman found her grieving mother’s voice through dance, that she somehow created such beauty out of anguish. I marveled in that moment that anyone in my position could ever create anything. It meant somehow going on, managing to do more than cry and eat and drink and sleep and cry some more. But it wasn’t long before I learned that sometimes the only way to sit with grief by one’s side is to create.
Early on, I don’t really remember what we did on craft night. There were certainly beads and perhaps glue. There were possibly paints. I may have tried crocheting a little, although I had no idea for whom I should crochet. Everyone would bring her own craft supplies and work on something while we talked and drank wine and, in the early days, did a lot of crying, staying up impossibly late, trying to avoid the sleep which meant facing the next day without our son. Occasionally others would join us, but very quickly, we learned that our core group of four was just the nurturing circle we all needed.
Every week, a new craft would emerge. Sometimes it was a shared project; other times, we all worked individually. Our friends graciously listened to our endless stories of Caemon; they stopped to hold us when nights were especially hard. They abandoned the crafts to sit with us through the agony, took us outside for the occasional night stroll under the moonlight. They sang to us, played us music, and created the most tender, gentle nest. They mothered us, made us tea (or poured us scotch), found us snacks, and held the slivers of our broken hearts as we looked for some magic glue to piece them together.
Sometimes we even laughed. In fact, there came a shift in our Thursday nights as we worked through our grief, and we began to focus a little more on the art itself. Jodi and I could listen to more stories about their children; we even made treasures for their kids. And the crafting got more serious too. I took up drawing, doodling, creating bigger images on canvas with pen and ink. I crocheted more intricate works. Our friends beaded and knitted. Jodi began working with mosaic, and she started making birdhouses. Together, we decorated the most amazing piggy banks for a fundraiser auction. It wasn’t that we were no longer honoring our grief; it was that we had found the safety and the comfort and the means to channel it, and channel it we did.
As the months, and now years, have passed, our craft nights remain a constant. For our friends, I think they are that much-needed pause in the life of a mom, a chance to just be without tending to the needs of others (although they certainly still tend to us). We have all now seen one another through our own personal crises, each woman’s pain or frustration has come to the fore; each of us has offered a shoulder. When we got pregnant last year, they celebrated with us; when we lost that baby, they grieved with us again, held us again, hoped with us again. As much support as we often have from others in our community, our time with these friends on Thursdays have become a touchstone, a time when any of us can fall apart if we need to or get a little help lifting ourselves up. And in the process, we have made some pretty great pieces—from necklaces and hats to birdhouses and superhero capes, the four of us in our productive and protective little bubble, have created incredible art.
Early on in these Thursday meetings, another mom friend joined us one night, and as I sat working on one of my drawings, she said, “Well, at least you have time to work on your art now.” I nearly dropped my pen. Everyone fell silent. At the moment, I was hurt and I was livid, and I couldn’t understand trying to find a bright spot in the greatest tragedy of my life. But I’m beginning to see where she was coming from. Granted, I would give up any creative endeavor to have my son in my arms, and while there are no “at leasts” in the death of a child, if anything positive is to come from his death, yes, art is one of them.
There is something to be said for the beauty that flows from an open wound, of the way pain becomes lifeblood for the creative. This certainly has been true of my writing. There is indeed a gift in being able to create in the wake of my son’s death, a certain closeness I feel to him when I work on a project. It is not necessarily his absence that gives me space to create but the desire to see him in what I’m doing, the longing to feel in some way like he’s near. In those quiet moments when it’s just me and a pen or me and a crochet hook, I can almost hear him; I can sit with my memories of him for hours, and there is comfort, and, yes, even joy in that.
I don’t know whether I would have found all of this without our weekly craft nights, without this specific time set aside for sewing and beading and drawing and weaving of memories and friendships and families. It’s a bit like making time for a workout, these hours we set aside each week to tend to the health of our spirits. Amidst piles of feathers and strings of hot glue, canvasses and yarn, we find healing and solace and the powerful bonds of friendship. These ladies did a lot more than distribute the weight; they somehow helped make the carrying of it inspired.