Quilts against cancer

The power of community in the face of affliction.

Cancer wins too often.

It took my mom on February 20, 2018, when I was 13 years old. Her name was Betty-Anne Rozema.

My mom was a teacher at Knox Christian School in Bowmanville, Ontario, for 25 years, but soon after her diagnosis the chemo started to take its toll, and she had to stop teaching. In this overwhelming time, people surrounded our family. The church community, friends and even strangers willingly gave their time and energy doing anything they could for us. People brought us meals, drove my mom to her appointments and just took time to care. One group, the Bethel Quilters, did something unique for my mom that has always stuck with me. They made her a quilt.

I got in touch with one Bethel Quilter, Marg Mount, a few months ago. She and 15-20 other women from Bethel Community Christian Reformed Church (BCCRC) in Newmarket, Ontario have been making quilts for cancer patients since 2005. Every year, they sew and gift about 50 to 60 lap-size blankets.

Mount says the idea to quilt for cancer patients came after a friend’s father passed away from brain cancer. His wife suggested they take some scraps of fabric that were lying around and make quilts for people who were receiving cancer treatments.

“When people go into chemo or radiation and sit around waiting they get cold, so we thought this was a good thing we could do,” Marg explained. “It’s very concrete. A lot of times people feel so helpless. What can you do? We can make a quilt!”

Community building

The Bethel Quilters meet every Wednesday afternoon at BCCRC from 12:30-4:00, and once a month they come for the whole day and share a potluck lunch. The group of volunteer quilters is supported by the church and receives donations from the broader community for their supplies. Of course, fewer members have been coming to the meetings since covid began, but Marg says they’re all looking forward to the day when gathering together is once again less complicated.

As the Bethel Quilters sew, they share not only their supplies but also the details of their lives. Marg told me that quilting together has been a wonderful way to socialize while also doing something to bless their communities. The 10 to 15 hours it takes to stitch, assemble, bind and label each quilt passes quickly in the fellowship hall of BCCRC when dozens of hands are stitching in sync.

On a few occasions, Marg has had the privilege of delivering a finished quilt in person. “The emotion, the joy and the respect that the quilts bring is unbelievable,” she says. The quilt recipients can barely contain their gratitude. “They’re just overwhelmed with emotion that strangers would actually take time to hand-make a quilt for them.”

Erica wrapped in her mom’s quilt.

Remembering Mom

Overwhelmed and beyond grateful is right! I remember my mom taking her quilt to each appointment and, although I never went along, I’m sure she wore it well. I remember days when I’d come home from school and see her sitting with a cup of hot tea, her quilt wrapped around her. Sometimes she was reading her devotional, other times she was doing research. She wanted to be informed on what medications she was taking and what they were doing in her body. She always loved science and somehow wanted to know more, even when that science would tell her everything that was going wrong inside her. Sometimes, however, I came home to her just sitting quietly. She had an air of rest around her that always surprised me.

One of her favourite pastimes was watching the birds. In the summer, she sat out on the porch for hours just watching and listening. She exuded a peace I can only attribute to a contented joy, one I hope to fully understand someday. As it turned out, she was teaching me through her life; through her memory. She led by example.

Jesus led by example too. He showed love to strangers, washed the feet of his friends and taught us what it means to be a community. Something special happens when we come together to honour each other. I feel it every time I get to see the tangible ways people pour out their love in times of need – with meals, conversations, car rides and colourful quilts. That’s Jesus. That’s church. That’s love like the Father, and I know how much it means to be on the receiving end of that love. I will always remember.

As I sit here reminiscing, wrapped in mom’s quilt, a hot coffee beside me, I’m so wonderfully grateful for what cancer cannot do.


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One Comment

  1. Thank-you for sharing this Erica.
    What lovely memories of your mom.
    Your words are an encouragement to all of us to show our care to those around us.
    I used to quilt with my mom. On our bed is a quilt she made for us. It is mostly shades of blue. I heard later that after it was finished she thought it needed something more. So she appliqued 24 brightly colored hearts onto it. I love them and their meaning!
    After mom went to Heaven I was privileged to be able to finish the quilts she had begun for her 2 newest great granddaughters whose mother had been lost to our family and then found. She supplied quilts for weddings, births, adoptions, celebrations . . .
    I too enjoy making quilts from discarded clothes and fabrics and then giving them away.
    I am grateful for the happy memories.

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