This interview was originally published in issue #14 of Happily Hooked digital magazine. Every month I share a new interview there in my “crochet heals” column … be sure to check it out if you enjoy learning about how crochet is helping people.
Sheila Zachariae became a widow before the age of 30, losing her young husband to a two-year battle with cancer. The fight was long and hard and she crafted her way through it, stitching a new life together as the old one fell apart around her. Here is Sheila’s story in her own words, followed by an interview about her crafty life.
In her own words …
“When I was a young woman in my mid 20’s, I married a wonderful man named Cory. He was a big, handsome, strapping guy – 6’ 3” and 205 pounds, blonde (almost white) hair and a reddish beard. We had a Big Fat Greek/ Scottish wedding complete with bagpipes, Greek dancing, ouzo and 500 guests. It was a lovely day. He made me feel safe and loved. We had a house, great friends, good jobs and dreams of children and a life together. We were very happy. Sadly, it was short lived.
Nine months after we were married, on Thanksgiving, Cory was diagnosed with Leukemia. Our happy world came to a crashing halt. We headed right in to a hospital the very next day to start treatment. We were very optimistic, although it was a difficult time. Months of chemo, radiation and two bone marrow transplants means more days in a hospital than out.
The loss of his job meant that I was suddenly the sole breadwinner. Every day, I would get up, go to work, go home, change my clothes, go to the hospital until 10 or 11 at night, go back home … wake up the next day and start it all again.
Back in those days, you filled out your own insurance claim forms for the hospital and doctors, which was very time-consuming and frustrating. When the insurance money arrived, you paid the bills. I was exhausted, scared and heartbroken. When Cory was at home, he was, depressed, nauseous, bored, angry, lonely and scared. He also was hooked up to an IV at home and it was my job to administer medication and fluids. What on earth was I going to do to keep my sanity? How was I going to help him?
I have been a crafter all my life, so I knew that was the answer. I would crochet during the hours at the hospital. I hooked away at baby blankets for friends’ babies. I crocheted hand towels for all seasons. I made scarves for the cold days in Nebraska. Reading a pattern kept my mind diverted, for a time, focused on something else besides the sickness and fear. Mindless, rhythmic, easy stitches helped during the long hours at the hospital. The yarn running through my fingers, the colors, all coming together in fabric … It all relieved some of the horror, some of the tension, some of the anxiety, for awhile at least.
As I hooked away at blanket, I’d think sometimes of a new life coming into the world, a world that would be forever changed since it was increasingly very likely I would be losing the love of my life. I did love him, two years later, almost to the day. We were 29 years old.
All of those items I worked on were just too heart wrenching to keep. I couldn’t look at them without weeping. The scarves and towels were gifted to the many people who supported us through our long journey.
Eventually, I rebuilt my life. I remarried 3 years later to my current husband of 23 years, Brian. We have a lovely 22-year-old daughter, Zoe – my BEST creation!”
Interview with Sheila
Q: I’m so touched to hear your story. Those early years of a first marriage are supposed to be filled with hope and plans so it must have been so devastating to go through illness and death so young. I’m so glad that you were able to craft your way through it. How did you first learn to crochet?
A: My mother had taught me how to knit when I was a child. I decided in my 20s that I wanted to learn to crochet as well so I picked up a beginners’ crochet book at a local craft store, purchased some worsted weight yarn to go with it and was on my way.
Q: Did you pass the craft on to your daughter or anyone else?
A: I don’t consider myself a very good teacher, but I’ve taught a couple of my friends how to make simple dishcloths.
Q: Do you still knit and crochet?
A: Definitely! In fact, that’s how I make my living. I am a designer with different online stores where I sell my patterns under the name Creative Design. I also make custom crochet blankets and scarves for sale.
Q: How has your experience been with selling patterns online?
A: Terrific. I’ve been able to pay for my daughter’s college tuition using the money that I earn through these online pattern sales. More importantly, it continues to help me heal.
Q: That’s wonderful! In what way?
A: I’m in my mid-fifties now and have some minor health issues that have kept me off of my feet since 2004. Crochet keeps me busy, creative and active. I especially love to crochet in a way that celebrates family. I love crocheting for babies, making small projects that often get handed down to siblings and creating family heirlooms that get passed down from generation to generation. I do sometimes crochet for myself but it’s gift-giving that is really healing!
Q: Is giving the gift the best part of the experience?
A: The whole process is important. Choosing great yearn colors is half the fun! Crocheting it all up and seeing it come together is a wonderful experience. And yes, the final moment of seeing this creation around someone’s neck or on a little body or atop a noggin or in the stroller is the BEST.
Q: Do you usually crochet at home?
A: Yes, since I make my living at knitting and crochet, I have a workspace (“my chair”) surrounded by a pile of yarn, fabric, more yarn, needles, another pile of yarn, patterns, more fabric, etc. I mostly like to crochet in front of the television – except during Downtown Abbey! We also take a lot of trips by both car and plane and I love to crochet during travel as well.
Q: You’ve mentioned fabric a couple of times so I assume you do other crafts besides knitting and crochet?
A: Yes! I’ve been a crafter all of my life, which I learned from my mother, and I’ve done it all: cross stitch, pottery, painting, glass bead making, sewing … Each of these crafts offers benefits and can heal the soul!