The TableclothBy Carol Bryant
Last year, my mother, Rose, lost her best friend of fifty years, Rosa, to cancer. Over a lifetime, Mom and Rosa forged a relationship that transcended the two of them, tightly intertwining their families as well. The two women knew and understood each other thoroughly and plainly, and deeply valued each other’s company and wisdom.
Their friendship began when they were young brides, inviting each other to barbecues and cocktail parties where they tried out and polished their cooking skills. A few years later, each became pregnant, beginning parallel journeys of motherhood. As the years passed, together they experienced the normal ups and downs of raising a family, providing one another with daily comfort, encouragement and companionship.
When Rosa’s cancer was diagnosed, my mother was her greatest cheerleader. Galvanized by fear and a loss of control, Mom organized meals, shuttled Rosa to doctor appointments, ministered to Rosa’s husband and grown children, and when possible, translated medical lingo to a bewildered family. My mother, a quintessential helper, gave Rosa and her loved ones much-needed support, gratified to be the scaffolding on which her fragile friend leaned.
Rosa’s prognosis was poor from the start, and within a year, she died. As arrangements for the funeral were made, Mom, herself grief-stricken, played a critical role stabilizing Rosa’s family and assisting with important decisions. The fact that she was needed was, of course, good therapy as she struggled through her own emotions.
Shortly after Rosa passed away, her bereaved husband, Jean, called my mother on behalf of their daughter, Marsha, who lived out of town. “Rose,” he said, “when Marsha was here for the funeral she turned the house upside down looking for a tablecloth she said Rosa had been working on, embroidery or something. I have no idea where it is, and Marsha is devastated about it. I think Rosa was working on it for her. Do you have any idea where she might have put it?”
The next day, my mother, her heart heavy with loss, pulled up in front of her friend’s house. Walking into the dining room, fifty years of knowing Rosa’s habits her guide, she opened the bottom drawer of the china cabinet, revealing the tablecloth and napkins Marsha was searching for. Unfolding the embroidered cloth, she said to Jean, “I remember Rosa telling me about this cloth before she became sick. She was working on it for Marsha, but it looks like she finished only half of it before she had to give it up. Do you mind if I finish it?”
My mother carried the cloth home and lovingly studied her friend’s handiwork. With tears in her eyes but with a sense of renewal, she threaded the embroidery needle tucked into the fabric and began to sew. For days, she embroidered, each stitch fortifying and healing her.
The tablecloth finished and ironed, Mom draped it over her lap, examining the commingling of her stitches with Rosa’s, contemplating the weight of their joint effort and thinking how true it is that the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. With great care, she swaddled the cloth in tissue, placed it in a box and mailed it to the daughter of her best friend.