The Fabric of Community

One by one, Mary Jane Getlinger constructed the quilts in her University Woods apartment, stitching them with the large, 24-inch longarm sewing machine on a 12-foot frame that occupies most of her primary bedroom.

Fellow residents designed and sewed the top layers and then brought them to Mary Jane, who holds a masters degree in clothing and textiles. She added a decorative stitch to combine the batting (also known as insulating material) and backing material with the top layer, before finishing the edges with a complementary binding. The result: nine beautiful quilts—each measuring 54 by 96 inches—created over the course of dozens of hours.

The extensive efforts are all part of a project to create unique quilts for hospice residents who have passed on the Oakwood campuses. The quilts are draped over the body as its taken off campus, during which they are honored by way of a ceremony called a processional. This ceremony brings special meaning to deceased residents, according to Oakwood Chaplain Nicole Espe.

“Processionals are as old as humanity—it’s a practice whereby we transition out of life,” Nicole explains. “We wanted to make sure we had a way for residents to be acknowledged as significant.”

Historically, quilts have been created to express appreciation for contributions that loved ones have made to society. Quilts commemorate births, weddings, graduations and retirements. Similarly, Mary Jane underscores the large role that the quilts play when recognizing the end of life.

“Having a quilt is comforting,” Mary Jane says, “It acts as a ‘dignified draping.’”

The project was initiated by Oakwood Preferred Hospice Volunteer Coordinator Alison Resch, who wanted the quilts to have the Oakwood touch. She started by connecting Prairie Ridge and University Woods residents who had quilting experience and were interested in the project. The groups collaborated regularly beginning this past March, and completed the nine quilts at the end of June. A blessing ceremony was then held, where Nicole set the intention for the quilts.

Two of the resident-made quilts

According to Alison, the Oakwood community showed its strength in bringing this project through the finish line.

“The whole project was a really beautiful thing in that both campuses came together to make the quilts,” Alison states. “There are a lot of elements to these that make them really great.”

Each quilt boasts its own unique theme, including America the Beautiful, On Wisconsin, and Beyond the Sea. Hospice nurses work closely with families to select a quilt that holds meaning for their loved one. While seemingly small, this gesture provides a sense of dignity.

“The quilts allow for someone’s character and values to be present in a visible way,” Nicole offers. “These things are how we shape the world around us, and they are held up for all to see.”

Oakwood resident Pat Paska pieced one of the nine quilts, Collaboration ~ In Honor of Ron, to commemorate her late husband, who shared her passion for the craft.

The whole project was a really beautiful thing in that both campuses came together to make the quilts. There are a lot of elements to these that make them really great.

“Ron was very creative and supportive of my quilting efforts,” Pat explains. “I often asked for his opinion as I selected fabrics for projects and as I made decisions about quilt block placement.”

For Pat—who was not aware of the hospice quilt tradition when her own family members passed away— the project offers a new way to connect with others.

“My hope is that families will find comfort in knowing that their loved one is wrapped in love as they leave campus,” Pat says.

Mary Jane has observed how her work has been received in the community.

Pat Paska (left) and Mary Jane Getlinger (right) with the Collaboration quilt

“It makes somebody else’s hard time a little better,” Mary Jane states. “Quilting is an art form—something I’m passionate about—that has a good purpose.”

Oakwood residents continue to underscore their valued role in the community, while also demonstrating their commitment to upholding the fabric of that community. When it comes to Preferred Hospice, these efforts couldn’t be more welcome.

“Having hospice on campus gives residents even greater agency in supporting others,” Nicole says. “It’s supposed to be localized and unique to each area, like the corner drug store. The quilts really epitomize that. They show that Oakwood is here for Oakwood.”

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