Memory quilt stitched by St. Stephen women blankets grieving mother with healing warmth

Between spring and fall in central Minnesota, garage sales pop up everywhere. Savvy sale-goers pore through castoffs in search of finding a good deal. But the treasure that popped up at one such sale last summer, no one could put a price on.

From left, Barb Nathe, Ruth Vouk and Carol Mehr put the finishing touches on a memory quilt they made for Crystal Aicher. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

In June 2020, Barb Nathe, a member of St. Stephen Parish in St. Stephen, received a phone call from a friend who was at a local garage sale. The friend wanted to tell Barb, an avid quilter, about all the quilting supplies that were up for grabs.

Crystal Aicher, who also was bargain-hunting at the sale, overheard the phone conversation and approached the friend. She asked if she could have Barb’s number to discuss a possible quilting project.

“I’d been looking for someone to make a quilt using my daughter’s clothes for years,” Crystal said. “I had never found anyone who would do it.”

Almost 10 years ago, Crystal’s daughter, Alyssa, 4, tragically died in a drowning accident. The quilt was something tangible that Crystal wanted to have made as a special remembrance.

When Barb and Crystal spoke on the phone, Barb’s heart broke for the still-grieving mother. Barb herself lost her sister, her sister’s husband, their baby and two of their family members in a car-train accident many years ago.

“They were coming to my house for Christmas,” Barb recalled. “Once you go through something like that, you can understand a lot better what other people are going through. It’s tough.”

Barb felt that the chance encounter at the garage sale was a prompting of the Holy Spirit.

“This is just something that doesn’t happen. I woke up at night thinking about it,” she said. “She wanted that quilt so bad. So I came to the girls and I said, ‘I think we have to help her.’ And they were all on board. All of them.”

The quilters at St. Stephen Parish in St. Stephen used Alyssa’s clothing to create a memory quilt. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Eleven women from the St. Stephen quilt group worked on the memory quilt: Liz Legatt, Barb Nathe, Carol Mehr, Jay Seaton, LaVonne Legatt, Rosie Keul, Cindy Swenson, Jeanette Trobec, Ruth Vouk, Ruth Supan and Joyce Honer. Most of the quilts they sew are for the parish fall festival, something they all fervently enjoy doing.

“But this is different. There is no comparison. This is so emotional,” Barb said. “This has a whole story behind it.”

The women, who meet every Monday to work on quilts for the parish festival, spent three weeks working on the memory quilt for Crystal. Liz Legatt pieced together the individual items for the top of the quilt — brightly patterned sundresses, fleece pajamas with Alyssa’s favorite character, Dora the Explorer, little pants with pockets and zippers — all brought together with a heart-themed border.

“I just sewed it together with love and hoped that it would bring her some healing,” Liz said.

A lot of tears and a lot of prayers went into the quilt as the women sewed.

“You find yourself thinking about the story, and then you’re crying,” Barb said.

“We repeated the story over and over again as we were doing it,” added Carol. “Being it’s been 10 years, we hope it’s comforting for her.”

Crystal Aicher snuggles up with one of the pillows the ladies made out of her daughter Alyssa’s clothing. In the frame is a picture of Alyssa, who died when she was 4. (Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

In February, Barb set up the quilt on a bed in her home, along with two matching pillows, a doll and a rosary. She invited Crystal over to view the quilt for the first time.

It was emotional for both women.

“I’ve never done anything so hard in my life,” Barb said. “But if it helps one person, it will have been well worth it. I wanted her to know that she can get through this. There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

As Crystal looked over the pieces of clothing, she recalled the times Alyssa wore them.

“I can still see her in that sundress playing disc golf with me,” she recalled. “I just miss her. I miss her smile and her laugh.”

Crystal remembers Alyssa as a bubbly little girl.

“She liked to do everything. She was outgoing, loving, happy. She just wanted everyone around her to be happy,” she said.

Now, Crystal spends her days trying to do the same thing as an aide at an area health care facility.

“It’s where I belong. Making other people happy makes me happy,” she said.

Although the pain of losing her daughter still leaves her cold, she has found warmth not only in the beautiful quilt but in those whose hands stitched it together.

“I think God had a hand in this,” Crystal said. “Who goes to a garage sale and finds someone to do something like this? Just seeing this quilt and them taking the time to do it, understanding that it is going to help me move on, has helped me. It’s hard to let go of the pain and the hurt. But this is something that will never fall apart, it will never go away. When I miss her and her smile, I can wrap up in it and it gives me some comfort. I’m just so grateful.”

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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