Sunday, August 02, 2009


The summer continues to be a whirlwind of activity, but this week was one filled with sorrow. I started & ended the week by attending funerals. A friend and a relative. Both were known for their warm, loving personalities, who gave much to friends, family and others.

My cousin Linda, who just turned 50, died very suddenly. She was out to dinner with her 20 year old daughter and collapsed shortly after she was seated at the restaurant. Her son's high school graduation party was just last week. The funeral was held on Monday, because the family didn't want it to fall on his 18th birthday, which was Tuesday. In addition to her work and caring for her family, she helped to care for her sister, who has advanced ALS. Linda was funny, warm and above all, generous. It was one of the saddest funerals that I've ever attended -- the unexpected, sudden loss of a young, vibrant person.

Whenever I went back home, her sister invariably teased me about the lack of "style" with my hairdo. She hounded me to plan a week-end when I could come home, so that Linda, a hair stylist, could work her magic on my hair. In fact, my brother had made an appointment with Linda for a "make over" in mid-August as a birthday present, when I plan to be home again. Of course, the fact that I'll never get the Linda treatment was a refrain during the viewing & funeral.

On Friday, I ended the week by attending a memorial service for a friend who died at 52 of endometrial cancer. Last I had heard, she was in remission and doing well. I had just received word that she was not doing well when I found out later that day that she had died. Like my cousin, Debra was a wonderful person, kind and generous to all. Our kids went to Greene Street Friends School together, where she also taught & worked in administration for many years.

As her obituary said:

Everybody needs a hug once in a while.

That was the idea behind the Prayer Shawl Ministry, begun by Debra Pinder Symonette at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown.

Members of the ministry combine knitting and crocheting with prayer, creating shawls for people, mostly women, in need of comforting.

"A shawl ends up being very personal and very loving," said Zelphia Ellerson, a friend of Debra's since they attended Girls High together. "It's a hug. That's what it is."

The shawl ministry was just one expression of Debra Symonette's compassion and love of people. The multi-talented educator, onetime architect, artist and craftsman died Wednesday of complications of endometrial cancer. She was 52 and lived in East Mount Airy.

* * * *

Debra founded Paper Crane Studio, a crafts studio based at the church. She taught doll-making, rubber-stamping, scrapbooking, basket-making, card-making, calligraphy, beading, orgami, crocheting, knitting, quilt-making and other skills.

"Paper crane" is a Japanese symbol of peace and hope.

Debra also taught a variety of crafts at the Mount Airy Learning Tree, and organized "Stitch and Pitch" outings to Phillies games.

She was a member of United Methodist Women, which works to raise awareness of human rights, economic opportunity and health and quality-of-life issues relevant to women. She also was a member of the board of Weaver's Way, the West Mount Airy food cooperative.

The quilt pictured above, titled "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Quilt," was part of an exhibition that was shown last fall by a group of quilters. Embodying the spirit of Debra, her quilt contained quilt blocks from all of the original quilters in the group, as a way of showing the creativity of each member and the community. Debra looked at life that way in all that she did.

At the end of the service, paper cranes -- the symbol of peace & hope -- were handed out to all.

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