It’s been a long season of letting go for me. My father died earlier this month. My mother’s dementia continues to progress. And after several years of cutting back on my fiber art business to manage my parents’ care, I’m letting go of some old ideas about who I am, what I do, and what’s most important in my life. All that’s missing is weight loss and a new hair color to signal big changes ahead.
I haven’t managed the first or ruled out the second. But I have made some decisions. First, though, I have to share an update on an old story.
In 2009 I wote about an unfinished needlework sampler that’s been in my family since about 1815. Now that my dad is gone, I hope to re-home it and other objects with other family members. And I wanted to add some information to the written information that was given to my parents along with the sampler. So I did a little internet sleuthing.
Elizabeth Hodge, who stitched the sampler when she was about 9 years old, never finished it. I always imagined she had kids and was just too busy. And it looks like she had 10 kids, eight of whom survived childhood. But someone posted this (possibly a newspaper obituary?) on her findagrave.com listing:
ELIZABETH PAULY – July – In Augusta County, VA, Elizabeth Pauly, aged 44…She was greatly afflicted for a long time, but endured her affliction with great patience, and always manifested entire resignation to the will of her heavenly Father. When death approached, she told her friends she wished them all to pray, not that she might live, but that she might have dying grace…- L.M.N.
Underneath are links to listings for known graves of her children. Isabel Ambrosia Pauly Kershner was buried in Niles, Michigan, which is near where my dad grew up. Her link took me to Lee Donna Kershner Matthews, the great-grandmother for whom I was named.
Now I imagine a daughter treasuring that unfinished sampler worked in childhood by her beloved invalid mother, and passing it down to her daughter, who gave it to her daughter (my great-aunt Ruth), who gave it to my parents, who gave it to me.
My home is graced with many things my dad (a woodworker) made for me. My mother’s legacy is evident in every meal I prepare and everything I grow. My parents also gave me the kind of work ethic it takes to be a self-employed fiber artist for 18 years.
I wouldn’t change a single thing about the choices I’ve made to do the work I do or to cut back on that work to care for my parents. But I haven’t been giving my business the effort and focus it takes to cobble together a living. After letting it wither so long, I’m not sure I have the energy right now to flood the market with workshop proposals while I scramble to make and sell products and market myself. And as long as my mom is living, I need to be free to take caregiver phone calls and emails and hop a plane — just like other long-distance daughters do.
Self-employment has given me the flexibility to care for my family. But the economic toll over the past few years has reached a tipping point. So for at least a while, I’m going to have to leave more of my fiber work like Elizabeth’s sampler — unfinished but cherished — and find work with a more regular paycheck.
I’ve been lucky enough to find an employer that will let me take off as needed to care for my family and to honor the teaching contracts I’ve committed to.
I’m still getting a handle on what my life will look like in a few months. I’m not sure what I’ll have to set aside to make room for what has to get done, or even what priorities will look like. No doubt many of you can offer valuable advice on how to balance family, fiber, and an outside job. I’m also open to suggestions on grief and weight loss.
I just know this is an important passage in my life. I want to approach it with as much grace as I can manage. And I’m not finished here.