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Gold Star Families find love and support through Quilting

By Caryse Harrell | Feb. 1, 2017

No one chooses to be a Gold Star survivor. Behind every gold star lies the heart of someone who loved deeply and lost greatly. The journey to rebuild a broken heart can be incredibly daunting and lonely.

Within the military family there are people who selflessly devote themselves to coming alongside Gold Star survivors to make sure they are supported.

The journey through grief looks different for everyone. A lot of us are widows and mothers and want to do something for our loved ones. We want them to be proud of us.

In 2015, two Gold Star Survivors, Cindy Hildner and Stephanie Crotty, approached Laurie Miller, an avid quilter and wife of Brigadier General Robert Miller, with a request to have Laurie assist them in making t-shirt quilts out of their loved ones’ shirts. Laurie agreed and got the support of the Survivor Outreach Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston to offer a room for quilting.

With five assistants, the first gathering was held in September and 12 survivors attended to make t-shirt quilts. Little did anyone know what a ministry of support this group would become.

All survivors know that pulling out shirts their loved ones wore is incredibly emotional, and stirs a multitude of memories because the shirts even smell of their loved ones.  

Making the first cut into a t-shirt is too difficult for some because it feels permanent. For those who are ready, they are not alone as they lay out the shirts and make the difficult cuts.

The first cut is a life changing moment. It feels like closure…but you have to move forward.

Sometimes tears come, but so do the hugs and support from everyone there who knows how hard it is. A transformation slowly occurs as stories are shared about the shirts and where they were worn and why they were a favorite.

One member laughs as she tells about her son’s white tank top that she added to her quilt. It used to drive her crazy that he wore it everywhere, but now it is a treasured addition.

As the quilts begin to take shape, a life story has been expressed in a tangible way.

“It becomes a healing process.” That is the recurrent message from all of the survivors as they piece together the quilts. They are determined to move forward and they want to make something meaningful and beautiful to honor their loved ones.

The day the quilts are completed is a day of “victory.”

These quilts are not packed into a cedar box. They are used, survivors wrap up in it like a hug from their loved one.

And hugs they are. Many survivors make them for their children as lifelong treasures from their lost parent. Others go on to make memory pillows and table runners out of uniforms. All are tangible keepsakes sewn among friends.

Most of the survivors had never made a quilt before or even sewn much, but we take them by the hand every step of the way. Thus far, ten beautiful quilts have been completed.

Military families have long known we define family differently than others. We may not share common genetic traits or the same household, but we are family with bonds which cannot be underestimated.

This group expresses the very best of the military family. Our team freely gives their time and talent, while those who come graciously give their love and support to one another.

What makes this group special is we are able to take a piece of our journey and make something beautiful.