Stories Triumphant and Tragic Written into Quilt

Following is a story written by a Family Shelter Service volunteer about working with a group of survivors who created a quilt depicting their experiences, which now hangs in the lobby of our administrative office.

“Several years ago, I was involved with a group of women at Family Shelter Service who were dealing with domestic abuse in their lives. These women created a quilt, which now hangs in the lobby area of Family Shelter’s Wheaton facility. The quilt came together square-by-square in various group sessions.

In one of the groups where some of these squares were created, several languages and cultures were represented.  Many of these women didn’t speak each other’s language, but they could understand each other’s art.  Through the pieces that they sewed, they were able to convey their experience in a way that words cannot. The group wept together,  encouraged one another and laughed.

When a Family Shelter Service Staff member showed me the completed quilt, I was really overcome by the awareness of what those pieces of cloth had meant in human suffering and healing, and I was also humbled that I was allowed to witness the transformations in the women who made their statements in those colored squares.

I knew and worked with several of the women whose stories are in that quilt.  I will never forget them and their stories of survival.

It is always an honor to be permitted to bear witness to another human being’s story.  As we listen, with respect and attention, we know that we are in the presence of something real and meaningful.  For the teller of the story, there is therapy in the telling.

I am, however, sobered by the black square with the butterfly-spirit soaring free because I remember the woman in whose memory it was made. This was a woman who grew strong and confident in the months she came to Family Shelter Service — who during her time with us would say delightedly, “I feel so free now!”  Tragically, her abuser returned and murdered her.  Her square on the quilt reminds us of the fragility of life, of our mission to create change in our society and to prevent such senseless loss.

We called it the Quilt of Strength, because there is indeed strength in all of the stories gathered together.  Each square tells a complete story.  And  when they are gathered all together, there is great beauty.

This quilt is indeed a patchwork of experiences.”