August 1, 2021

The Sewing Room

Nonfiction - Essays
1993 Viking
Finished on July 30, 2021
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A lovely book... honest, funny, sad... impossible to put down. ~ Madeline L'Engle

In these insightful essays, Barbara Cawthorne Crafton reflects on a broad range of experiences ministering among merchant seafarers, the homeless, the bereaved, AIDS patients, and others in need of personal and spiritual help. She shares honestly her own emotions as she grapples with the harsh realities of the world, while delighting in the humor and joy found in everyday living.

Crafton compassionately recounts the unique stories of the men, women, and children she worked with during her service as a port chaplain in New York and New Jersey and as a minister at Trinity Church on Wall Street. In doing so, she weaves together threads of the mundane and the traumatic, the lovely and the ugly, and the down to earth and the holy, creating an original tapestry of the richness of life.

I wrote about this book in a "Looking Back" post in 2016 and finally got around to pulling it off my shelf for a second reading in May of this year. I wish I could say that I enjoyed it as much as my first reading (rated 4/5), but it wasn't as impressive, although I did like it... just not enough to want to keep my copy for another reading. Of the original passages I highlighted, these are what still remain my favorites:
People are what matter... Everything comes back to people: people I love, people I've disappointed, people I worry about, people I mourn.


At this annual conference, there are always facial tissues in the welcome kit. The participants cry a lot.

It is the annual conference of The Compassionate Friends, an organization of people whose children have died. There are two thousand people here: mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents. A sprinkling of clergy and others in the helping professions. I fit several of these categories. I am a priest. I am the mother of a dead child and the stepmother of another. I never knew the young man my husband misses so mightily. It wasn't until after he died that I met his dad. But I have dreamed of him. My own dead child never saw my face; he was too small to see, too small to cry, too small to live. But I saw him. Sixteen years later, I see him still. And in a dozen years of ordained ministry, I have watched the bedsides and prayed at the gravesides of many young people. Too many. But then, even one would have been too many.

From my previous blog entry in 2016:

My Original Notes (1996):

My mother gave me this book; both she and my grandmother read it and highly recommended it. Nice short essays. "Uncommon reflections on life, love, and work." Some reminded me so much of my grandmother... Strange to know she was reading this just a few weeks before her death.

My Current Thoughts: 

I've had a draft of this post for several years now. Every time I start to share it, I find myself flipping through the pages of the book, re-reading passages, wondering why some spoke to me back in 1996, while others are still just as powerful as they were 20 years ago. I rarely re-read books, but maybe this is the year.

On the passage of years:
But years pass again, and life changes. Love comes again. Marriage. My youngest child is almost grown, and I am astonished at how brief this era, almost past, has been. How brief my life has been. I am aware that the decades left to me will seem even briefer, so they had better be sweet. If I do not capture and celebrate what art I have, it will die. If I do not nourish myself, I will yearn for nourishment. If I do not connect myself with my own past in the things I do now, I will remain adrift from it. Those whom I have loved in the past cannot catch hold of me, for they are dead. It is I who must catch them.
On the loss of a child: 
How long has it been since your son died, he asks? Five years. The man looks at my husband and tries to imagine himself surviving five years of this. He can't. He asks if it gets any easier. It gets different, my husband answers. Not exactly easier. It's hard to explain.
On parental worry:
Separateness with love, though, recognizing that my child is a separate person with a destiny separate from my own, a destiny I cannot completely control:  that's frightening.
... Now you know other fears at night. The stakes are a lot higher. Fears that don't spring from a neurotic need to control everything, but from an accurate assessment of what the world is like. The world is sometimes a dangerous place in which to live. There are things out there that can really hurt your child. And so, you worry.
On imperfection:
I told them that it is good to have one's faults unambiguously revealed from time to time, in order that one may know wherein it is that we are acceptable. It is not in our perfection that we are loved. It is in the honest confession of our imperfection. Our clear conscience does not come from our assurance that we have not sinned. It comes from our assurance that we are forgiveable.


  1. The death of one's child has to be the most difficult death to experience for a parent. My sister-in-law lost her daughter when Erin was thirty-three and had a brain aneurysm. My friend Elke's daughter had a degenerative disease the family knew about for many, many years before she passed away. There are no words of comfort.

    1. Deb, you are absolutely right. It is the most difficult and there are no words. But, as the author's husband states, "It gets different... Not exactly easier. It's hard to explain." It's been 16 years since my stepdaughter was killed and while we will never get over that loss, we have learned to live with it. Some days are more difficult than others, but we are no longer defined (or consumed) by that loss.

  2. This sounds like a good, but tough read. Losing a parent, sibling, or spouse is so very painful, a pain that never goes away. I can't even imagine how someone could deal with losing a child. My sister lost her son when he was a few months old (she never got to take him home from the hospital when he was born) and my best friend lost her daughter when she was 18. So very devastating when anyone looses a child.

    1. Vicki, there's a lot more to the book than the grief of losing a child. But, yes. At times, it's a tough read.

      I'm sorry to hear about your nephew and your best friend's daughter. We lost a child (my stepdaughter) in 2005. She was 24 and had just graduated from college. It was devastating, but as the years pass, that pain subsides ever so slightly. We've learned to once again laugh and enjoy life, but we'll never get over her death. It's just a different and not all-consuming as it was in those early years.

  3. This sounds really sad and one I had never heard of. I have to be careful what I choose and when otherwise it brings me down.

    1. Diane, I didn't think of it as a sad read, but looking at all the chapter headings, I guess it really was. You can probably skip this one.

  4. I just learned that a former co-worker passed away from covid. She was pregnant so they took her child early. The baby seems to be fine. She also had two little boys, about 6 and 4 years old. I can't imagine losing a child, but I also can't imagine never knowing my mother. There are so many forms of grief.

    I don't think I'm the audience for this book but I'm glad it's there for readers who need it.

    1. How heartbreaking, Jen! I am so sorry and my heart goes out to the family. Three motherless children. There are simply no words.

  5. I like personal essays and the quotes are moving. I'm glad you mentioned that it is more than grief over the loss of a child which would be too sad even for those who have, thankfully, never had to face that loss.

    1. Jenclair, I probably focused on the passages about grief since I experienced the loss of a child (my 24-year-old stepdaughter) several years ago. We actually attended a grief group similar to The Compassionate Friends, which helped tremendously. Little did I know that when I first read this book, I would find myself joining such a group.

  6. This sounds very moving. While I don't have children I still think I could find a lot to think about from the essays on other topics too. Thank you for sharing about this one!

    1. Iliana, it's really a good collection of essays, but maybe a little dated.


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