My Journey with Alzheimer's Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hop

Alzheimer's Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope continued its five-year journey across the United States with a stop in Portland, Oregon's NW Quilting Expo. As one of 10 special exhibits at Expo this year, it was by far the most meaningful and touching of all of the exhibits there.

Perhaps, that opinion is based on my having two of my own little small format art quilts on display, and the pride that I felt also viewing the two quilts from the members of my AAQI Liberated Quilting Challenge group.  But really and truly, there is a depth, and a breadth, and a far reaching scope to this exhibit that simply surpasses making beautiful quilts in an artistic fashion for a simple art challenge.

So, no matter how creative the other challenge exhibits might have been there..and I visited each and every single one and loved them....still, there was no comparison for viewing, and feeling, the hearts and the souls of true art quilters who create for a genuine cause of true purpose.  There is simply no comparison!

As I wandered through the maze shaped exhibit, I found myself both slowing down to truly feel the raw emotions the quilts evoked and then speeding up to not have to feel so painfully and personally, each and every step of the way.

You have to allow yourself to feel, but keep from going into the sheer tragedy of this disease and what it has done to your loved ones, yourself, and the dynamics of the entire family. And trust me, this is something that cannot be explained, but only felt through the tears and the ripped out and torn seams of the inner heart.

My first 'go through' was a quick one. We were early, and there were few visitors as I headed to this exhibit first. But the lovely and gracious docent, Sue, who was just plain 'great Scot' awesome at what she does, and the magic she contributed there, immediately connected with us, listened with an open heart to my own story, and before long, there was a group gathered around me to 'over hear' and 'over heart' my story.

As I looked at the faces of those viewing all of the quilts, one by one, I knew that each, and every person there had their own story... and my own heart opened to bursting.... so that I had to pull back just  a bit, in order to do what I had to do and both feel yet document this exhibit for all eternity within my own spirit.

But I could not help but mention that as I personally realized...somehow, for the very first time, I realized.....that my own two quilts in this exhibit were begun in May of 2010..and that I had sewn them with a broken and still healing from surgery wrist.

I had just spent months in Douglas (Island) Alaska, caring for my mother (then in her 6th year of advanced Alzheimer's) and my father (who had two silent heart attacks during this period and was beginning vascular dementia) and myself, who slipped on the worst black ice in Juneau-Douglas's history, and not only brokne mine wrist in three places... but slammed three wrist bones into my forearm.  I had immediate surgery, the implantation of a titanium plate and 10 screws, and I just kept on going. Because, that is what Alzheimer's Disease forces us to do. It takes so very much away from us, and all we can do is cope with its ravages, day by day, bit by bit, until it all becomes a painful blur and we almost forget how incredibly challenging it is because there is not even time to feel sorry for yourself when all the focus must be on those you are helping and the horrors that happen amidst family members through all of the stage of denial and grief to acceptance.

I had cared from my parents for several months, one handedly cooking, cleaning, giving shots and pills, and doing laundry before I returned home to Oregon in March. Without any time for physical therapy, I simply quilted to get my arm working again and these little quilts were the result of that therapy.

That alone, hitting me for the very first time! almost did me in as I realized just how much I had been through simply creating these quilts!!!  I think, perhaps, that was the single biggest personal impact of the show. How could I possibly have not realized this before? That is how the mind focuses on surviving and doing, and not running and trying to escape the horrors of all it all.

But here, at Expo, in this exhibit, I wanted and needed to chronicle the journey through this exhibit. To see the quilts, and view the words..but also to take many as I could, so that others might find their own quilt online instead of just my own and those of the other two quilters of this group. More photos can be found at my own blog With Heart and Hands as I will also be posting there, and at my personal AAQI Quilting Blog, as well.

The Exhibit Reviewed

The Exhibit Reviewed
Click here to read a blog post by Michele Bilyeu writing about "Alzheimer's Illustrated: From Heartbreak to Hope."

It is also available as a downloadable PDF.

Michele Bilyeu blogs With Heart and Hands as she shares a quilting journey through her life in Salem, Oregon and Douglas, Alaska. Sharing thousands of links to Free Quilt and Quilt Block Patterns and encouraging others to join in the Liberated Quilting Challenge and make or donate small art quilts to the Alzheimer's Art Quilt Initiative (AAQI) Help us change the world, one little quilt at a time!