The hooking flock is close and someone in our group or groups will volunteer to finish our last, uncompleted project, maybe several friends will share the lovely deed, pass it around so they all put their sentimental mark on the piece. A fitting farewell and something to keep us occupied while we grieve for the loss of our dear friend. We all feel helpless after the death of a loved one and this is the way we can contribute, feel like we are doing something to manage the helplessness while the work guarantees carrying on our friend’s legacy.
I’ve done it twice. First for my dear friend Susan Leslie. I lucked out on that project because there was only about one half hour worth of hooking and then the whipping. It was a commission and the woman was greatly appreciative of having Susan’s last hooked rug completed. Susan worked on one project at a time so there wasn’t a mountain of unfinished rugs to sort through. And then she left a rug hooker’s will for us to converge on her house where we shared her stash, all walking away with a bag full of her precious wool. A fitting farewell to a rug hooking friend.
On the other hand, when Jean Morse passed away she had a monster rug in progress and had only completed less than a quarter of it. Her rug hooking group offered to finish her work but admitted they were currently working on another diseased friend’s rug so wouldn’t get at it for about six months to a year, so I happily intervened, considering I had colour planned and dyed the wool for her in the first place and it was one of my patterns. There wasn’t enough material to complete the rug and I knew how to colour match the choices so I felt that I was the best hooker for the job. I was told at the memorial service that the rug would go to one of her sons, was given a phone number to call when I completed it and I said a tearful thank-you for the honour of the task.
I actually loved Jean. She was the gentlest person I’d ever met, with never a harsh word for anyone. She loved life and I think she had a fondness for me that made me feel special in her presence. During the last years of her life she relied on me for the many custom designed patterns she hooked for her family and we colour planned and I dyed any wools that were needed to complete each project. She had an enthusiasm that was unprecedented. She would hook a day or so and then drop by the shop to show me her progress, bursting to share the excitement of the evolving rug. It was always a pleasure to see her walk through the shop door, knowing my day was about to be uplifted with her visit.
So when Jean passed away it was a terrible loss for me personally and I wanted to do something to honour her. It was something I just had to do, as if finishing this rug would keep her spirit close to me because I wasn’t ready to let her go. Her group had offered to do the rug but were happy to let me take over as it was a sizable piece that would take upwards of a year to complete. When people offer to finish a rug it means months of your life, putting their own projects on the backburner. It is a great honour for someone to do this and it should be appreciated for the sacrifice. Anyone who knows anything about rug hooking will understand how dedicating a year of your life to a rug that isn’t your style or maybe colour choice is a huge undertaking. We all know hooking a design that we aren’t excited about is a tough pill to swallow, most who start projects that we aren’t emotionally invested in tend to roll them up and store them in the closet unfinished. Maybe you have to be a rug hooker to appreciate this kind of offer, know the time and effort it takes. Jean hooked rugs for years so her family should have known what it meant, the time it would take, the materials and cost to finish. Surely a thank-you could have been easily offered but in this case, not.
Two of my hooking friends, Mary and Heather offered to help so the three of us contributed to the hooking and finishing of this sizable piece. I did the bulk of the hooking and it took me several months to chew through to the finish and then Heather whipped it. The pattern was a design from an antique rug I purchased at an auction. Jean loved it so I drew up the design and dyed some wool to get her started. It was a sweet pattern that looked like garden stepping stones (thence the name Stepping Stones) with brick geometric intervals to separate them.
I can truthfully say that hooking the rug brought me pleasure. I was doing a good deed even though it was getting tiring toward the end. All those bricks! Treasuring Jean’s friendship fueled me on, even when the enthusiasm waned, but I always felt good about the process, that I was helping to make sure this gift of Jean’s would go to her son. As I hooked it I remembered all the time we spent together. She liked to laugh and I’m a bit of a clown so we shared some fun times
that brought a smile to my lips, but also I shed tears knowing she was gone. I can truthfully say my heart was in the right place.
What left a strange taste in my mouth was her son. It wasn’t that I needed a slap on the back for my effort, a simple thank-you would have sufficed but when he and his wife drove to the shop to pick up the finished rug he couldn’t even be bothered to get out of the car, sending his wife in for a quick pick up. Later we received a card, once again from the wife, saying thank-you but it wasn’t the same as chatting with or hearing from a part of Jean. No matter what might have been going on in his life, he could have taken one minute to show his face and say thank-you. I just know that Jean would have been a bit embarrassed at the lack of thoughtlessness from her son, that wasn’t who she was at all. I was a bit shocked for a moment, but I shook my head and felt proud in the fact of what we had done, I wouldn’t change a thing, but I will admit it took the shine off of offering to do it again. I’m gonna have to love the bones of ya to offer to finish your rug!
This wasn’t the first time I heard of this happening. A friend, one of my Main Street Hooker rug pals, finished a rug for a dear friend (let’s call her Betty because I don’t have permission to use real names) who had passed and was later told by the husband, “You’re no Betty” meaning she hadn't hooked to the standard of his wife. The woman was crushed. Finishing that piece wasn’t done for any accolade, it was an offer given from her heart and considering the rug was all done in a painfull #3, fine shaded with finite detail she had gone well out of her way to do a wonderful deed. Offerings of the heart really need no praise, but to be told the work didn’t quite meet the standard of his dead wife’s work, the comment was ungratefully mean.
So my point is, make sure you are offering to finish someone’s work altruistically because you may walk away from the experience dismayed or disappointed. Hopefully these two cases are rare, but knowing that a selfish, thoughtless and dark side of humanity exists, maybe there are other stories out there. If it should ever happen to you, find solace in the fact that not all the world is warm and fuzzy, you did the right thing for the right reason and move on, being the wiser for the experience.
I would like to take this time to say to the one who steps up to finish my last project, be assured you are a true friend and will be forever in my heart, so big sloppy kisses and hugs for your time and effort. I just hope I’m not working on that room size rug I dream about starting!
Jean Morse 1923 - 2007
Jean's organizational ability was demonstrated as president of the Nova Scotia Rug Hooking Guild (honorary lifetime member). Her rugs achieved public acclaims and are private family treasures as they depict the life stories of her family and love of the natural world. She is remembered for her empathy, fierce devotion, spunk and determination. She never let an obstacle get in her way and as she said, always "got on with it." She was a firm friend who held many dear to her heart especially her rug hooking friends and her neighbours.
An exerpt taken from her obituary.