Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The Grief Scarf

One night during the early weeks following my husband's death, I listened to a radio interview with Michelle Obama promoting her most recent book. Part of the conversation delved into how she had used knitting as a way to fend off depression and anxiety during Covid. Up to that point in the discussion, I had only been half-listening, not really paying attention, but at the word "knitting" I perked up, curious to learn how something as basic as yarn could turn your mood around. I was also intrigued that a First Lady could share such common feelings as anxiety and depression.

Until I discovered--and became more interested in--beading and art, I loved to knit. Over the years I made both my husband and myself countless pullovers, cardigans, vests, and of course, scarves. My main times to pick up yarn and needles were Sunday mornings when we watched motor racing on TV: Formula One, Indy cars, Moto GP, super bikes. Honestly, my husband would have watched lawn mower racing if it had been televised and the mowers went fast enough. Sitting beside him cheering on his favorite drivers I grew to love the sport too, but found I needed something like knitting to feel a little more productive during those endless lap-after-lap battles. After a while, though, we eventually had enough knitted clothing to last several lifetimes and I began to simply enjoy the races without the need for extra activity.

But after the interview with Mrs. Obama, I thought, well, maybe knitting would be fun. I had the needles, and a trip to the craft store was easy enough. The next morning I got in the car and drove to the nearest strip mall, quickly finding a soft, lilac/lavender chenille I thought would be perfect for a winter scarf.

When I got home is where things became more challenging. Of the dozens of needles I had packed away, the only size I didn't have was the one the yarn called for, Number 9. Too bad, I thought, 8.5 will have to do.

I didn't have a pattern. No problem, just cast on some stitches, right? I knew that if I knitted a standard stocking stitch it would result in a curled scarf that could double as a pool noodle, and garter stitch seemed too easy. Moss stitch would be the one for me. Which would also require that I concentrate, be aware of what I was doing at all times, and be willing to unpick any wrong stitches; none of which I was very good at right then and there.

Never mind, I told myself after the first several mismatched rows. Just carry on no matter what happens, exactly how I was living my life at that point. I was becoming familiar with making mistakes and taking countless missteps. Much of the time all I could do was laugh through my tears as I imagined my husband's mock-horror at my inexpert attempts to get by.

But "get by," I did. Last week I finished the final row of the scarf, and people, it is the worst thing I have ever made in my entire life. And you know what? I don't care. Every dropped stitch, gaping hole, wrong pattern twist is a witness to how I'm surviving, and I'm proud of myself. I'm trying. I'm doing my best. I've knitted a scarf that when it's scrunched around my neck not a soul will know what's "wrong with it."


There are so many lessons woven into this strange little piece of handiwork, first and foremost being that even in the depths of despair, when I was certain I couldn't walk across the room or turn on a light to see what I was doing, taking some kind of action, any action, took me to the next step. After that, I took another, and another. I kept going.

I learned that creativity doesn't have to be grand. I might not have the energy or focus to work on my new novel, paint a series of watercolor forests, or submit my last manuscript to sixty different agents, but I can still do something. Knitting is soothing, meditative, a rhythm of knit one, purl one I find calming regardless of the order I follow. Working with my hands helps me to watch movies and news programs more easily. (For some reason I previously couldn't sit through more than ten minutes of any program without feeling restless and scared. I'm glad to say that's well behind me now.) 

More than anything else, the Grief Scarf, as I call it, taught me that mistakes are unavoidable. They happen. I have the choice to fix my stitches if I think they are important enough (I don't), or I can start over and use my new-found strength and knowledge to try a fresh outcome. Which is precisely the path I've chosen, starting all over again with a new project I've named the Happy Scarf:

This time I've got the right size needles and I'm going with easy and fail-proof garter stitch. I chose a bright yellow inspired by the Japanese practice of kintsugi or kintsukuroi: mending broken items, mainly pottery, with gold. In Japan, when an object such as a valued tea cup breaks, molten gold is poured between the cracks, making that object more beautiful because it has a history, including flaws and accidents. It represents, as I read in one online article, "a life well-lived." A worthy goal if I've ever heard one.

Thank you as always for visiting. Keep stitching!