A few days before Thomas was born, I visited the needlework shop. I wanted something to keep me busy during a prolonged stay in hospital. Well, I hoped I was going to have a prolonged stay. If Thomas’ diaphragmatic hernia wasn’t healed miraculously then I hoped the doctors would be able to save him through their expertise. And I knew they would need time, time when I would sit in the hospital praying and waiting for him to get well enough to come home.
I chose a Noah’s Ark cross stitch and at once started work on it while I waited to go into labour. Just before we rushed out the door to go to the hospital, I shoved the kit into my bag.
But I didn’t think of the cross stitch again until we’d returned home after the birth and death of our baby. The kit remained in my bag forgotten as we spent hours keeping vigil by Thomas’ side as he struggled to live. I didn’t end up having a prolonged stay in the hospital. Thomas died at 3 pm on the second day of my stay and we were home again that evening.
The first day after Thomas’ death, Andy and I were so busy. We had phone calls to make, the priest to visit, a funeral to arrange… The next few days were equally busy. A constant stream of friends visited, we had to shop for funeral clothes… Finally we had the funeral itself to attend.
And then we stopped. There was nothing left to do but grieve. I started a journal and began writing about Thomas, the pregnancy, his birth and his death. And as I was writing I came to the decision that I wanted to do something for Thomas. I wanted to make him something that would be a visible reminder of his presence here on earth.
I remembered the Noah’s ark cross stitch. That seemed to belong to a different world, a time when I’d had hope. I no longer wanted to finish it. I rolled it up and put it away. But it gave me a new idea. I decided to cross stitch a picture with Thomas’ name and birth and death dates. I returned to the needlework shop and chose a piece of beige linen and a pattern of an old fashioned house flanked by fruit bearing trees. There was room in the centre for a verse, a name and a date. I drew a pattern for the words:
To You O Lord we humbly entrust
Thomas Augustine Elvis
So precious in Your sight
And then I got to work. For weeks I sat on my bed and stitched and thought of Thomas and his death. I pondered such questions as: Why didn’t God heal Thomas? Why do we suffer? What does it all mean? My fingers worked while I had an unending conversation with God.
Gradually I began to take interest in other things but each day I still found some time to work on Thomas’ embroidery. I had a reputation for starting a creative project but never finishing. This time it was going to be different. I had to finish because this was for our son. And, despite the pattern having some complicated stitches needing a high level of skill, I was determined the piece of needlework would be perfect.
I started to get excited when I began work on the outside border. I was on the home stretch. I picked up the pace as I imagined taking my piece of needlework down to the shop to be framed. And then I discovered a mistake. It wasn’t a major mistake. Probably no one would have spotted it. But I had decided that only perfection was acceptable. I undid a large amount of work and patiently redid it correctly.
Finally the embroidery was ready for framing. I flew down to the shop with it to choose a frame. Two weeks later we were hanging Thomas’ cross stitch on the wall where it could be seen by everyone who came to visit. I thought, “Now everyone will know Thomas existed. There on the wall is his story.” I imagined someone seeing my cross stitch in many years to come. They would know that a baby called Thomas was born who lived for one day and his mother loved him so very much she embroidered a beautiful cross stitch for him.
The year after Thomas died my friend Amanda’s baby was stillborn. Remembering how much comfort my cross stitch had brought to me, I decided to embroider one for her baby. The baby was called Faith and I used a verse about faith from the Bible as the central words. By this time I was pregnant with Sophie and I spent long periods of time resting and stitching and thinking and praying about babies.
Amanda lived a couple of hours’ drive away. My husband, Andy offered to deliver the finished cross stitch to her.
When Andy returned home he was carrying a large frame. For a moment I thought it was Faith’s cross stitch. But it wasn’t. It was a large picture of our Lady of Guadalupe. Amanda had given it to Andy saying, “This picture was on my wall but I had a feeling that it wasn’t mine. God intended it for someone else. Only I didn’t know who was supposed to have it. I thought at first it was meant for Joan. I invited her to afternoon tea but Joan didn’t pay any attention to the picture at all. She didn’t even notice it hanging on the wall. I decided it wasn’t meant for her after all. And then today when you arrived with the cross stitch from Sue, I was absolutely sure Our Lady of Guadalupe is for her.”
Amanda’s story and her gift touched my heart so deeply. I felt we were bonded together by our exchange, just as we are bonded together by the deaths of our children. I can imagine Thomas and Faith together in Heaven and Amanda and I are united here on earth by our grief.
I haven’t seen Amanda for some years now. But I will never forget her. Every time I look at Our Lady of Guadalupe I think of her and am grateful for her gift which I feel has helped me to heal.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is hanging on the lounge room wall right next to Thomas’ cross stitch, Thomas’ perfect cross stitch. Or is it perfect? One day, I was standing looking at the embroidery and I noticed the bottom line of words is slightly out of line. One word looks like it is sagging. My first thought was, “The framer didn’t do a very good job. He didn’t stretch the linen tight enough.” And then I realised I had no one to blame for the imperfection except myself. Despite my efforts to be very careful, I had sewn the middle letters of one word slightly lower than I should have done.
I smile now when I look at the mistake. It is a reminder to me that I am not perfect. I strove for perfection, thought I’d achieved it but in reality I had failed. It’s funny isn’t it, how we often don’t see our own flaws? We think we are pretty good. But then one day God opens our eyes a little wider…
Thomas, together with all our lost babies, is perfect. He is so very perfect in Heaven. And here I am on earth, still striving away, still working towards that goal. One day with the help of Thomas’ prayers and those of Our Lady of Guadalupe I will get there. One day…
Please share my stories at Sue Elvis Writes