Mary’s Quilt

Mary's Quit frontA quilt is a tapestry of fabric pieces that when sewn together create a personal masterpiece. The beauty of each quilt is in taking seemingly unrelated pieces and turning them into a work of art. A quilt can also be the timeless bond between young women who experienced something rare during our formative years that forever stitched us to one another. This is the story of Mary’s quilt, which was crafted nearly 40 years ago during my formative teenage years of swimming.

Mary’s quilt was woven out of friendship and of hard work, of goal-setting and of sisterhood. And at the center of the quilt was Craig McConnell, our high school swimming coach. Craig was like no other coach; he not only trained you physically, but believed in the power of positive thinking and mental preparation and instilled in us a deep respect for team. He read us Jonathan Livingston Seagull poolside, had us practice visualization, used coffee cans filled with cement for barbells (when weights were not available) and set personal goals for all his swimmers. He was the master quilter of my poolside peers and instilled in all of us the deep values of belonging to a team. Belonging and having one goal bonded us through the thousands of laps we swam alongside each other. Whether it was the monotony of swimming 100 x 100’s on the 1:30 or the joy of taper time, we all endured it together as we sought the holy grail of “PBOP UTWAL,” “Celebrate the Sun,” “186 and Closing Fast” or “Ring Those Chimes.”

For when you have a team like we did, time does not decay the bond. And so the team spirit rose up once again just a few short months ago when one of our teammates shared with us that Mary was very ill, struggling with the side effects of cancer treatment. As a former oncology nurse, Laurie thought of two things that could help Mary – the strength of team and the comfort of a quilt. The beauty of today’s technology is that it was only minutes before social media had us all planning the logistics of the quilt. Before I knew it, an overnight delivery arrived on my doorstep. I quickly opened the package with a rare anticipation.  Unfurling the quilt, handmade by Laurie’s mom, I paused first to say a prayer for Mary and then to give thanks for the renewed sense of team that had been awakened through this extraordinary gift. As I signed the material with fabric paint, I saw the love that went into not only the quilt, but the packaging, pens, the extra mailer and the list of where to sent it next. As if still a member of a relay, I packaged up the quilt within minutes and rushed to the post office to get the gift on its way to the next name on the list. And so Mary’s quilt was shipped across the country to teammates near and far, with one goal of reaching Mary in her time of need.

The quilt shipping schedule planned to reach Mary’s younger sister, Rose as the last address. Rose would then hand deliver it to Mary later that week. But, shortly after the quilt reached Rose, we learned that our Mary had unexpectedly passed away. Sadness enveloped me because Mary was gone so quickly. And then I thought about the wonderful quilt of love and encouragement we had collectively crafted. A gift too late that Mary would never receive.

At Mary’s funeral, her brother’s eulogy included Mary’s cherished relationships with her teammates. That feeling was mutual. Although Mary’s race on earth is finished, her Irish spirit remains to help guide us all.  Rose shared with me that she recently visited Mary’s home, where she saw our quilt draped over a comfortable chair by the fireplace. It now brings comfort to Mary’s family. For that is what quilts do best.  Rest in peace dear Mary. Mary's quilt back


About Britta Wilk McKenna

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  1. Debbie May 25, 2015 at 8:24 pm #

    Dear Britta,

    How eloquently written. Your words again evoked the beauty of our team spirit and the memories that are forever in my heart! Thank you for reminding us once again how special the friendships were/are that began so many years ago. I often think about each one of you and hope and pray that you are happy!

    Debbie France Smesko

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