Spoiler alert: this post contains sombre reflections on dealing with grief.
One of my friends sent me a Christmas card, with a written request inside – so today, I was dealing with that request. I had put the card down, and coming back to it, suddenly noticed that there was a brief line scribbled on the back, also – saying that her mum had died a few months ago and this was very painful for her. My friend is someone I respect as strong and unselfish, so the little she did say, carried a lot of weight. It took the wind out of my sails, I sat with the news for a few minutes, thinking of her.
Listening to an audio podcast on knitting recently – partly because I wondered how you could have an audio podcast on something so visual – I happened on an entire episode about grief. The blogger was completely sideswiped by it, because she had been in the military where death among comrades was a fact of life and you accepted it as a risk of the job and didn’t grieve. This efficiently let you carry on with your work. However, when a non-combat friend died suddenly, surprisingly young, she went to the funeral and was affected by the grief of others and began to mourn.
Afterwards, she was overwhelmed with lethargy and sorrow. A podcasting knitter, she couldn’t settle to her usual knitting. However, she had seen the hat placed on the coffin – the one always worn by her friend – and decided that knitting a hat would be a small, achievable project. Her usual knitwork seemed overwhelming, but this small thing she felt she could do, and it helped her recover.
Today, I googled “knitting grief” and found an article at Reddit where the question was asked “Have you ever grief knit?” and the answers came pouring in, so many life stories, so many situations. Now this is the internet, there is no way of checking the details – but there also seemed to be no reason to lie, nothing to benefit by a false story. People had come through situations like a friend being murdered, their child dying young, going through traumatic situations themselves, sitting with elderly relatives in hospices – and the one simple thing which helped was knitting. Even if they weren’t usually a knitter.
Benefits of knitting in grief
The grief in the responses could be extreme stress over work, or anxiety, or a time of illness onself – but most often the grief was a bereavement. Common themes emerged:
- it was the one thing which was so absorbing that it distracted from the painful thoughts such as “what if”s
- the steady rhythm and progress of the knitting was comforting
- it accompanied people, even through difficult nights of insomnia, and on long journeys to the funeral
- when sitting with someone dying, it comforted the patient that the visitor wasn’t ‘wasting time’ with them, but was doing something by knitting
Some specific phrases were:
“Knitting helped me ground myself when I felt like I was drowning in grief. It helped me remember what it means to keep going”
“Yes, grief knitting happens. It’s energy and emotion transformed into a tangible product.”
“I think grief or stress knitting is probably as old as knitting itself. Many letters from previous eras especially mention it”
“I knit things that are basically stockinette in the round when I’m depressed, by which I mean, life is a yawning emptiness in which only dust resides, and happiness or even interest will never come back, because it’s so dark”
What do people knit at such times?
Sometimes, people opted to knit something very simple and undemanding – although a few purposely engaged with difficult patterns which demanded all their attention, distracting their thought processes from worry.
knitting something for charity seemed a way to make something better, even if you couldn’t change the one in front of you. It also helped if the knitter felt they might not want to keep the object as a reminder
one person knitted a scarf while watching over her grandmother (who had taught her to knit). Afterwards, when she wore the scarf, it felt like a hug from her grandmother
A personal story
There is a very well written, longer personal account of one woman knitting through the loss of her young daughter, in an article entitled “Ten things I learned from Knitting” by Ann Hood. I was glad that I had read it. At the start of the story, the writer is going through the type of bereavement which is so devastating that ordinary simple tasks are beyond her. Yet through the help of a knitting group tutor, she begins to reach towards moments of calm and recovery of more normal life.