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 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.

Published by

Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin

19 thoughts on “Passages”

  1. You already have courage. It will be what it is. Juggling is difficult and I think it is wise to leave space for your mother. In my experience, juggling a job and a fiber career is a recipe for burn out… heck, juggling JUST a fiber career now that I don’t have another job is a recipe for burn out. It isn’t an easy way to make a living. Sometimes the outside job is a way to make space for awhile. I have no idea but I’m sure you’ll find your time for fiber again before too long.

    1. Thanks, Rebecca — I will and look forward to the next time our paths cross again at some fiber event. In the meantime, I want to thank you on behalf of all the families you helped back when you were juggling the outside job: The occupational and physical therapists made a huge difference in the quality of life for my dad after he broke his hip in January.

  2. Thank you for sharing. It has been 2 yrs that Dad is in care and I am just coming alive enough to see how dear the cost of keeping him at home was. I do not regret but I understand the change in focus on the possible. Like that unfinished sampler, I see many projects that are on hold. Smaller projects and the gift given to me “do what brings joy” is a help to focus. On the weight front, slow is good, try this one “remove 100 cal from your eats each day”. I found it do-able. (-:

    1. Thanks so much, Teresa — I’ll try that, and really hoping to take more time for walking and biking this summer. But first, I have willow I left standing to peel after the leaves brake. Should be a pretty good workout to get that done in that short window of opportunity while learning a new day job! Who knows when we might find ourselves in the same place again, but I’m really glad to connect with you online. My best to your dad.

  3. Donna you are the strongest and most focused woman I know You can probably thank your parents for laying the ground work of your foundation. The rest you developed along the way. I know you will move forward in a direction that is best for you. One thing I have learned about grief you actually have to give yourself the time and permission to grieve. We tend to withhold this for the sake of others. Let yourself be sad You can still function and grieve at the same time. Let others help you if you need to Involve yourself in what you enjoy the most. And most importantly love those that are still with you and honor those that have gone Love you

  4. Dear Donna,
    I am an admirer of your work ethic, your care for our parents, and your fiber art! I took a class (Burundi) from you long ago at an Association of Michigan Basketmakers convention and loved the class and thought you were an amazing teacher.
    As I reread the 2009 post about your sampler, I am struck by the potential for learning that you see in it. Those unfinished projects do represent this journey.

    Grief knows no simple resolution. And your grief is so new. It catches you in unexpected places in unexpected ways. You eventually learn to live with the waves of emotion that at times can seem like you are drowning. But then the waves become more manageable, the distance between them increases, and you adjust. We all have so much to learn about love and loss. Staying close to nature helps me. I think that is why I cherish the rhythm of the gathering seasons.

    I think your new journey with outside work may offer you new insights, or at least distract you as you learn new things. This can be healing. At the same time, I cannot imagine a world where you are not teaching and making. My best to you as you journey through these difficult passages.

    Paulette Attie

    1. Thanks do much, Paulette — I can’t begin to tell you how much your kind words mean to me. I can’t imagine a world, either, where I’m not teaching or making. I’ll still be teaching, just making thoughtful choices and hoping to travel light as I move forward. And like I told them in the job interview, I haven’t operated a phone system that was installed in this century, and I stumble through many tasks with self-taught skills where I know there must be a be an easier way to get the job done.This will definitely be an adventure!

  5. Dear Donna,
    Your message holds much truth about the process of grieving, the cycles of life, and wisdom about how we are not in control of so many things. Losing one so important to us is not only a powerful impact on our lives, but it is a change in our life that does not return to the former ways of seeing, doing or behaving. Trust the process is the best advice I could offer. Recently, I went through a traumatic end of life, end of marriage with an impaired spouse. I am still in recovery, or something akin to that. I have moved to a new city, close to my daughter, and am beginning to create a life here. My art, well, it still waits for me to give it the time it needs. Soon, I think, soon. Bless you in your grief. It is part of life, and most difficult.

    1. Thank you so much, Rosemary. New beginnings for both of us, then. Let’s meet up on the other side where our paths seem clearer. To borrow a phrase from Paulette, I can’t imagine a world without your art.

  6. I look forward to your progress through this season. Its a right of passage, lising parents. Im glad you are letting go for your mother. I didn’t. I regret that. Of course i tried, but her rejection cornered my resistance. I stopped after that first year, rewrote my life, took care of Dad, and won’t regret that. But boy is it hard. Just know that you are strong and resilient and brave. I hope you can share some of your journey. It is important to continue to create, but just for your self expresdion. Teaching will no doubt ALWAYS be your job no matter what you do. Blessings.

    1. Thank you, Cricket. I like the analogy that we can rewrite our lives. I’m definitely in edit mode. But everything I’ve ever written was better after editing.

  7. We follow our hearts through the quakes life throws at us, and you have a particularly strong one. Trust it. Trust yourself to know the directions to take. I was working full time throughout the cancer treatments and transplant crisis that affected my two grandchildren in Texas. It was hell. I embroidered onesies with messages like “eats chemo for breakfast” and relied on our family’s penchant for gallows humor to pull me through. Also, my very strong husband and the safety of occasional visits home to recoup. Your creative life force will come roaring back when you least expect it. You’ve been feeding that river for a long, long time. Let it carry you for now. It knows the way.

  8. You don’t know me but I am no stranger to the road you have walked so bravely and well. You have chosen the better life and you will be blessed for that in many many years to come.
    Do what you have to do. Continue your craft in any way possible. You are a blessing to many.

  9. Life’s demands ebb and flow. Making thoughtful choices is so wise, Donna. It’s never simple, but you have a good track record of planning well and adapting. Sending you lots of hugs.

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