Jill with ponchos

The Poncho Project

By Jill Murdoch

Years ago, on December 21st, my family lost an amazing, wonderful girl, Tamara, just 15 years old. It was unexpected, a hidden heart problem and in one very hard and horrible evening, this beautiful girl was taken from her life, her family, her friends, her guinea pig, her future. It was Christmastime and the night she died, I recall stepping outside the hospital, our family going home without her and for some insane reason, there was no snow on the ground. It just didn’t’ snow that much and what had fallen, melted. I couldn’t feel anything except numbness. I don’t usually welcome the cold but wished I could feel it then.

The next day, the cold set in. We were gathered at Tamara’s house where my brother, a 6 foot 2 strong man, sat amongst friends and family in shock and sadness at the loss of his daughter. People came to the door to give him hugs, to console him, but it was he who consoled them. He greeted them at the door, opening his big strong arms and taking them in.  

The thought of a poncho came to mind as I was wondering what I could do to add warmth to our world. I went shopping and could find nothing. After these early days and weeks passed and we continued to step one foot in front of the other, I took up knitting. That became my therapy. I asked my brother who Tamara’s closest friends were and she’d had many people who’d been connected with her during her life in a special way. That year, I knitted 36 ponchos all different colors. When I had completed the project, I knitted squares with the leftovers and created a quilt with all the varieties of colors representing the many wonderful people who’d made their mark on Tamara’s life, and ours too. This quilt went to Tamara’s parents.

A few days before the anniversary of Tamara’s passing, I shared this project with my brother and his family. I told them my intention and asked my brother to deliver them. He did so; along with a note from our family asking that they wear it knowing that we are all connected and affected by this loss and that we were so grateful for the part they played in her life. The next day, we had an open house and it warmed my heart to see so many people walk in to my brother’s house with ponchos warming them, my brother still greeting them with open arms at his door.

The activity of creating and using my hands provided me with a way to walk through that very difficult year. The knitting needles, I guess you could say, were my crutches. After I finished putting together the quilt for Tamara’s parents, and got my brother to deliver the gifts, I laid them down. Then I had to learn to walk through my days without them. It was still hard and my heart was still very heavy, but the transition was a little more bearable and I hope and believe that these gifts made a difference in others’ lives; helping them to stay warm on those cold days, remembering my brothers’ arms around them in gratitude and love and shared loss.