In the next of our ‘Making it Better’ stories, I am honoured to introduce to you my friend and sometime colleague, the talented and lovely Kylie Innocente who has suffered more slings and arrows of fortune than surely are her due.
Kylie has recently metamorphosed from being an occupational therapist working in Youth Mental Health (where we met) into a professional knitwear designer and maker. Under the name Knitmi Designs she uses rescued and lovingly repaired (and individually named) knitting machines and locally sourced exquisitely fine merino yarns to make beautiful, colourful and artisanal knitwear. She is also a formidable hand knitter.
I am very grateful to Kylie for sharing this very moving story – one of her many stories on the theme of ‘Making it Better’.
September 21, 2018
By Kylie Innocente
My life has been a journey of recovery and making it better. I have so many stories where craft has grounded me through times of grief, loss, recovery and setbacks. I’m going to share just one story today, the story of losing my first husband when I was 33 years of age and how knitting was my anchor and has remained my choice of making to this day.
Guido had been living with lymphoma for 9-years and we had as a couple incorporated this into our relationship; him, me and the cancer. It had been a part of our life for so long that I had forgotten it was a life threatening illness.
The morning he awoke with acute abdominal pain I knew this was it. We caught a cab into the Royal Free Hospital in London where he was well known to the Haemotology and Renal teams there. Within a matter of one hour he had deteriorated to such an extent that he could hardly breathe. The doctors from the Intensive Care Unit were now surrounding his bed, asking my permission to intubate him, the idea being if they could ‘put him to sleep’ they could take care of his breathing whilst they solved the riddle of what was happening to his body.
All the while my needles were clicking, knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two breathe in and breathe out, breathe in and breathe out.
Cancer was happening, we all knew it but we had to go through the motions. I stood there, calm, listening, asking questions and the team commented on how relaxed I was and complimented me on my rational mind. All the while my needles were clicking, knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two breathe in and breathe out, breathe in and breathe out.
‘What are you knitting?’ the ICU nurse asked.
‘A scarf for Guido, he always feels the cold.’
‘I wish I could knit,’ she replied ‘I’m just not that creative.’
‘Oh but you are,’ I thought. I didn’t mouth those words for I wasn’t there to console her feelings of inadequacy, I was trying to hold my head and heart together because I felt as though I were falling apart.
My knitting was in rhythm with the beeping of the machinery working to keep my husband alive. Was I knitting him alive?
The days and weeks merged into one while Guido didn’t improve.
‘He’s a fighter this one,’ a nurse would say.
‘You should go home and get some sleep, there’s nothing you can do here to help.’
Knit two, purl one, knit two, purl one was my mantra and meditation. I had become the observer of the Intensive Care Unit, my knitting was in rhythm with the beeping of the machinery working to keep my husband alive. Was I knitting him alive?
‘Your husband has multi-system organ failure. He wont survive this,’ said the doctor.
I burst into tears and howled a cry that frightened both the doctor and me. The yarn slipped through my fingers as time passed, the elasticity of time that you experience in an ICU.
‘What are you knitting?’ he asked. He had a soft Indian accent, mostly London Estuary but I knew he wasn’t born here.
‘I’m not sure anymore,’ I replied.
‘It’s very long, you could wrap that around your neck many times.’
‘Yes,’ I replied resenting this small talk but also appreciating that it was taking the focus away from the darkness of my reality. I needed a break from that.
…as I unpicked those stitches to make my repair I wished more than anything at that moment that I could unpick this story that had played out in my life.
I cast off his scarf and then cast on his hat.
‘This rich black lambs wool will look lovely on him,’ I thought.
I knew he would never wear this scarf or hat but I couldn’t stop knitting it.
I had my 100 stitches on my circular needle and began to start the beanie,
‘Knit one, purl one, knit one , purl one…He’s dying…knit one, purl one, knit one, purl one… how will I live without him? Knit two, purl one…oops, a mistake.’
And as I unpicked those stitches to make my repair I wished more than anything at that moment that I could unpick this story that had played out in my life.
Four weeks previously I had been happily married and pregnant with twins and now I had miscarried my twins and I was observing my husband’s last few breaths. Oh, how I wished I could unravel time.
I knitted and knitted because the words weren’t there.
I knitted through the shock on the morning he died; I knitted through blurry eyes and the pain and agony in my heart. I was only breathing because the yarn in my hand willed me to do so. I knitted to the coroner and to the funeral director. I knitted to the solicitor, to the grief counsellor. I knitted to the nurses and doctors who had treated him so well and I knitted and knitted because the words weren’t there.
I wore the beanie and scarf for Guido. The warmth of this knit made me feel close to him. When you lose your husband, the irony is, you need your husband more than ever to support you through it.
One evening I was walking through the bustle of Camden, shouldering my way through the crowds of drunkards, stoners and party people. A tall black man who was busking with his guitar and harmonica asked me why I was looking so sad. I found my words and told him everything. He cried and then I did too. I took off the beanie and scarf and felt the chill of winter around my head. I handed the knits to him.
‘I want you to have these,’ I said.
‘I can’t,’ he replied.
‘Yes you will.’ We embraced one another with a tenderness I had longed for and then I walked off, not looking back. I was moving on with my life and as I thought about this I also thought about what my next knitting project would be and there, I felt it, right in my solar plexus, my first ping of happiness.