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Memorial Quilts Help Families Celebrate Lost Loved Ones

Discover the heartfelt story of how memorial quilts help families cherish memories of lost loved ones, featuring personal tributes and the craft of bereavement quilting.

In May 2019, Colleen Casey received the kind of phone call every parent fears. While taking a photo of the Oregon Coast’s majestic scenery, her 21-year-old daughter Michelle had tripped and fallen 100 feet down a cliff, landing against a tree. It took two hours to rescue her and fly her to a Portland hospital, where she later died.

Now, as the fifth anniversary of Michelle’s death nears, Colleen is treasuring the two quilts she commissioned for herself and her older daughter made from Michelle’s favorite clothing.

The quilter, Rosie Rhine, says she could feel the presence of Colleen’s daughter as she sewed. Rhine has been quilting since 1973 and started Rhino Quilting in 2006. She specializes in bereavement and memory quilts.

The blanket is filled with things that symbolize Michelle’s many hobbies and passions: volleyball, singing, Taekwondo, travel, working at Starbucks, being an Oregon State University student, going to the Disney parks and to concerts, and the sense of belonging she found in Young Life. 

“It’s a tangible, poignant reminder of what we have and don’t have anymore. As time has gone on, it’s more about the joy that she brought when she was alive rather than the sorrow, which comes up in other ways. The quilts – to me – bring back the positive memories,” Casey explained.

quilt squares symbolize Michelle’s many hobbies and passions

While the inside squares are made of favorite t-shirts and tank tops, the outside was created from sundresses and blouses. Her mom can see her in each one, which she says brings her joy. “It was surprising to me. I did not feel any sadness at all. Every time I walk by it, it makes me smile. I know she loves it,” Casey said.

Having a tangible item representing Michelle’s short life is one of the many ways her family pays tribute to her. The Caseys place flowers each year at the overlook where Michelle fell. They recognize special events and holidays and visit her grave. In this way, she is always with them. The family has also contributed quilt squares to a blanket representing the many families participating in the organ donation program.

Rhine says that when families pick up their quilts, they see their loved ones in them. “It doesn’t matter how much work (I put in), or how nice I made it, or if I made the ugliest quilt in the world, they would love it. The artistry that I hope I put in it is secondary or way down the list. I am aware of that, and it is just wonderful to see,” Rhine explained.

Rhine also recently made a quilt for Celine Gounder, widow of the well-known soccer journalist Grant Wahl, using the cloth from 13 of his suits, linings, and ties. She’s also made quilts for grandchildren who never met their grandparents to remind them of their heritage.

While the grief of losing a child never goes away, in addition to the quilts, Colleen says the family has found some comfort in the many ways both they and Michelle have given back to the community. Michelle’s organ donation saved two lives that day. A year later, the family started a fundraising drive which raised enough money for additional training and equipment for rescue workers on the coast so that they can more quickly reach those who might need help in the future.

Families can choose to have a name or quote placed on the back of the quilt. Casey says it is another way to keep a loved one’s legacy alive. “It’s always going to be Michelle’s quilt. So no matter what happens, it’s another way of making sure that that person’s legacy, their story is still out there, they’re not forgotten. To me, that’s incredibly important,” she explained.

These memorial quilts highlight the diverse ways we can honor our lost loved ones. For more unique tribute ideas, consider reading ‘Last Words’ Project Turns Letters Into Song, where letters from loved ones are transformed into lasting musical tributes, or Surfer’s Tribute Gives Lost Loved Ones a ‘Last Wave’, which tells the story of one man's mission to memorialize lost loved ones on a series of surf boards he takes out for a final journey. These articles offer further inspiration on creating meaningful memorials.

You can find more information about memorial and bereavement quilts at