Since this is partially a knitting blog I thought I should actually write about knitting! I have knit a few projects over the last few years that I never got to write about and really wanted to. One of them was a prayer shawl I knit for a friend. While technically the Leaf Lace Shawl is not a prayer shawl I used it for that purpose.
Back in September of 2014 my family and I traveled down to North Carolina for a long weekend because my nephew was getting baptized. We flew in to Norfolk, VA. As we were getting to our rental car and loading it up I turned my phone back on from airplane mode. It started buzzing like crazy with tons of FB messenger messages. As I looked at my phone I saw a long thread of messages from the other moms in our play group. We are all extremely close…like family really. I caught words like “crying” and other things that lead me to believe that something was very wrong. I opened the thread and scrolled a long ways back to the first message. It was from Chris. One of the moms I probably spend the most time with and possibly one of the sweetest, most gentle women I know. She was writing to tell us she had breast cancer. I gasped. I couldn’t breathe. My head started swirling. The kids kept asking me what was wrong but I couldn’t say it out loud…I just handed the phone to my husband to read for himself. I honestly don’t remember if I cried or not…I got in the car and started reading all the messages. Of course they were all positive and super supportive. I remember messaging one of the other moms and asking if I was the only one freaking out. I just kept thinking, “we’re too young to have a friend with breast cancer”. I was 33 at the time and I believe Chris was 36. We had an hour and a half drive to my Dad’s house and Chris was all I could think about. I needed to do something. I needed to do something for Chris. My hands were antsy. I needed to knit her something. I couldn’t get past the feeling that I just needed to knit her something. All the yarn I brought on my trip was tied up in projects and wasn’t right anyway. My Dad lives in the middle of nowhere… there are no yarn stores around and none between Norfolk and his house. At least none that I knew of. Why did I have to be stuck so far away from my friends when I found this out and in the middle of nowhere and WHY ARE THERE NO YARN STORES?! All that weekend in my free time I did the only thing I could do…I poured over Ravelry looking at patterns for shawls. It had to be perfect. Chris is an amazing artist who loves the outdoors. She loves trees and does incredible paper cuttings of them and I wanted something that reflected that. After hours of searching I settled on the Leaf Lace Shawl. I couldn’t wait to get back to PA and head to the yarn shop for the perfect pumpkin orange yarn. I headed there first thing Monday morning. The owner helped me pick a beautiful, soft pumpkin orange yarn and I went home and got started right away. Initially I wanted to have the shawl done for when Chris started chemo. I desperately wanted to knit her something beautiful and warm to wrap up in during her treatments, I wanted it to hug her and comfort her. I wanted when she wore this to feel like I was hugging her. It was almost as though I thought if I knit something perfect enough I could knit away the cancer which sounds so silly but if I could have knit it away I would have. The pattern was more difficult than I realized. Looking back I don’t really think it was above my skill level but it required a level of focus that is hard to come by as a Mom of two young kids. I also think there was a lot of emotions going into this project that a lot of my other projects don’t have. I was putting immense pressure on myself to make it perfect. Chris started chemo a few weeks later and the shawl was not done. I got side tracked for a bit because I knit her a hat with interchangeable flowers so she could remain stylish as she lost her hair. Every time I came back to the shawl I would get a row or two done and then make a mistake. Every right side row of this shawl increases in stiches so making a mistake and needing to rip out rows every few rows is extremely time consuming and as the stitches started to add up once row could take up to almost an hour. I made a new goal of having the shawl done for when she finished chemo. Chris finished chemo in February and I was not done with the shawl. I continued to make mistakes and get upset. When I think of this shawl I think of the Paula Abdul song that says “two steps forward, two steps back” . New goal…get the shawl done for when she goes in for her mastectomy. By this point it was March and I was having a lot of pain in my hands which is always a signal to me that I’m pregnant…things swell, my fingers get achy and tingly and I have a hard time knitting. Low and behold I was pregnant…my hands never lie! I was also so frustrated with the shawl that I just needed to put it away for a while. I started to think I was never going to finish this thing. Around that time I talked with another friend who was also a breast cancer survivor. She suggested that I give Chris the shawl when she was all done with everything. Chris still had to go through several weeks of radiation and I believe another surgery and wouldn’t be done until mid-fall… about a year from when I started. This seemed like a perfect and do-able goal. I took a nice long break from the shawl and around August started working on it again. I was due with our baby in the very beginning of November and I knew if I didn’t finish before that it would never get done. I hustled over the next three months to finish. As Chris finished up radiation and her hair started growing back I put the finishing touches on the shawl. About a week before I had the baby I took the shawl over to Chris. I had never told her I was knitting it for her. As I presented it to her I was able to tell her how I felt when I found out she was sick and how the whole year I had worked on this shawl and prayed for her and thought of her the whole time I knit it. I never knit without knowing where the project is going and I always think about the person for whom I am knitting but I don’t think I have ever knit so many prayers and healing thoughts into a garment before. My knitting students often ask me what the hardest thing I have ever knit is and I always say this project. As far as knitting skills go, yes it was hard but emotionally it was so much harder. There were times I could do nothing for her but knit. I knit the day she started chemo, I knit the day she had her mastectomy, I knit and prayed the whole year. The shawl came out beautiful. I was very proud of it but being able to give it to my sweet friend a year later, my sweet healthy in remission friend was the best part of all. It was an answer to my prayers and the thousands of other prayers that were being sent up for her. I can knit beautiful things but my friend Chris can kick breast cancers ass like no one else with a strength, dignity and smile on her face that to this day still brings tears to my eyes and inspires me.