Memoirs of a Sweatshirt

Josh got a Calhoun Creek sweatshirt from a high school best bud.  It was his favorite sweatshirt.  But, as fate would have it, the day he broke up with the last girlfriend before me she was wearing this favorite sweatshirt.  A few years later, with my encouragement, he finally inquired about getting the sweatshirt back.  Said ex-girlfriend replied harshly that she ditched the thing almost immediately after the break up.  Josh was heart broken twofold:  the nasty message rattled him and his favorite sweatshirt was lost.

I resolved to recover his sweatshirt.  For over a year I periodically scoured the internet for a “Calhoun Creek Abercrombie hoodie.”  One time I found one that had just sold on Ebay.  My hope was renewed but to no avail, after that point the best I could find was a tiny thumbnail image of the sweatshirt on Google images.

My last-ditch effort was a call to Abercrombie itself.  I hoped beyond hope that somehow there was a backlog of old merchandise buried somewhere in their storehouse.  I called customer service and talked with the sweetest black lady.  When she answered the other line I dished out my tale of trying to locate my husband’s favorite sweatshirt.  She replied that they don’t keep old merchandise anywhere but was desperate to help my cause.  After a little brainstorming we proceeded to sift through all their current merchandise over the phone together. Our new goal was to help me find the next best thing:  a plain sweatshirt I could transform into the Calhoun Creek sweatshirt.

Step 1:  buy a plain Abercrombie sweatshirt.

There is nothing quite like an Abercrombie sweatshirt.  I used to hate the company for their constant play at sex, but this project made me discover just how great their clothes are.  Their sweatshirts are impossibly soft and warm.  So, if I was going to recreate one of their sweatshirt designs I was going to have to start with one of their sweatshirts.

When I was on the phone with my Abercrombie friend we located the closest thing in color and concept to what the original Calhoun Creek sweatshirt was.  I purchased a navy blue hoodie with next to no insignia on it (friends, Abercrombie loves insignia so this was a feat in and of itself.)

Step 2:  recreate the Calhoun Creek insignia.

I can fake my way through graphic design.  But for a project like this I new I would be reaching well beyond my scope.  After a short brainstorming session I messaged our friend Josh to enlist his designer skills.  I plead my case, telling the sad tale of the lost sweatshirt once again.  He was immediately on board and excited to help me bring this clothing favorite back to life.  His design was what I hoped for and more!  Not only did he recreate the design beautifully from the saddest scrap of digital data in the history of images (remember that tiny thumbnail I mentioned?) but he added some personal flavor as well.  In the end we had a perfect recreation of the graphics including Josh’s birth year and an icon of Wisconsin (Josh is Wisconsin’s number one fan).

Step 3:  locate a printer.

Citizen Way, the band Josh is a part of, works with a company called FutureShirts for their t-shirt needs.  I know all of Josh’s passwords so I snuck onto his email to glean some contact information.  Soon thereafter I was connected with Jordan.  I told my sweatshirt tale again and asked her if, by chance, FutureShirts would be able and willing to print my design on my Abercrombie sweatshirt.

For those of you who don’t know about printing on shirts, it is easy to do either one of the following:  buy one shirt and iron on a design yourself and buy a one-time design from a company using their line of shirt options.  But to ask a company print your custom graphic on a shirt you’ve already purchased is asking for a miracle.

None-the-less, Jordan was passionate about my project immediately just like everyone else I plead my case to.  She told me she was going to look into it and get back to me.  At the end of the day I received a return phone call, she said she combed through all the logistics and that she could feasibly help me but would be mortified to have to tell me what it would cost me.   I told her I completely understood but wanted to start with them since they already have a relationship with Josh.  She fervently wished me luck and gave me some recommendations for how and where to hunt for a printer to fulfill my needs.

I poured my search efforts into the internet and came up with exactly nothing.  I found some companies that looked like they could hold potential but none that I even felt confident enough about to even start with a phone call.  After exhausting my search efforts I sat, staring blankly at my computer screen for several minutes.  Finally another idea popped into my head and I called the company I use for all my a Sunshine Moment printing needs (Proforma Synergy Graphics in East Dundee, IL).  Turns out, my timing was perfectly wrong; my contact, Kurt, had struck up an illness that had him in and out of the hospital for a week or so.  When he finally was on the road to recovery I received an email with a couple options: a quote on what it would cost for me to run the project through their company and the timeline it would take them and a phone number of another company that could do it quicker and possibly cheaper.  I called the other company in order to better know all my options.  My initial contact was less than promising, the woman on the other line indicated they probably wouldn’t do a project like this but that she would gather the information for me anyway.  She called back and I expected more sour news but in the end her answer was that they could do it and her quote wasn’t too terrible!  Next thing I knew I was sending a check and my sweatshirt to this company.

A week later it came back to me and I excitedly presented my project to Josh for his birthday.  Much to my excitement, he loved it as I hoped he would!

Moral of the story:  you never know what you can achieve until you ask!  I was amazed at the willingness and enthusiasm from friends and strangers alike as I pursued this project.

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How to Help a Grieving Friend

I am 24 and in the past 6 years I’ve had 7 loved ones pass away, been to  5 funerals, and cried more tears than I have in my whole lifetime.  This Tuesday I am going to my grandma’s funeral, my 6th funeral in 6 years.

Today I was talking to my mom about Grandma and realized the difference between offering to be there for a grieving friend and actually being there.

I see my mom’s friends not just offering to be a listening ear but they actually make a phone call.  I see them delivering food rather than just offering to help.  Instead of simply offering condolences via Facebook they are bringing her flowers.

I know is most people younger than 25-years-old haven’t experienced the death of a loved one so how could they possibly know how to comfort someone who is grieving?  This post is for anyone who wants to know how to be an AMAZING friend to someone in mourning.

  1. Make a phone call.  Facebook condolences are fantastic but there is very little effort in doing that.  It means the world to be cared for enough to have a friend reach out personally.
  2. Send a handwritten letter.  I have always been a big advocate for handwritten letters.  I know there is something so special about them in this age of emails, texts, and junk mail.  I especially learned the value of this when I stared sending my late grandma postcards and writing her letters.  She looked forward to my letters and loved them so much that she would bring every one of them with her every time she was going to see my mom to show off the latest card she received.
  3. Ask to meet up.  A friend that reaches out with a note or a phone call is a wonderful friend.  But there is nothing like having someone come over to your house and hug you, cry with you, and let you talk about the memory of the one you lost.  With an empty house, all I wanted the day I found out about my grandma dying was for someone to come over to my house and hold me.
  4. Be a good listener.  Sometimes your friend will want to talk about what they are feeling, what their loved one was like, and what they are experiencing.  All you have to do is listen.  If they start crying hold them and get them tissue.  Don’t be afraid to allow for space and silence so they can keep dwelling on what their feeling unless they change the subject.
  5. Send some flowers to your friends house.  My mom has received flowers from friends, in-laws, and even a business colleague she hasn’t met face-to-face yet.
  6. Send some flowers to the funeral.  It was so meaningful seeing so many floral and plant gifts at my grandpa’s funeral.
  7. Send a gift.  You could drop off some brownies, send a teddy bear, bring them a latte or a bottle of wine, have a locket made with their loved one’s picture in it… anything thoughtful really.  Your gift doesn’t have to be big or expensive, in this case it really is the thought that counts.  With my grandpa’s passing I got to be here to witness Pam bring our family communion, Karen gave my mom a handmade necklace with my grandpa’s picture superimposed, several bouquets of flowers arrived at their doorstep, Amy gave my mom a penny with a heart cut out of the middle, Steve and Jenny gave us an eternal lantern, Leanne and Bev gave wind chimes with a beautiful inscription (“Walter ‘Bud’ Hammond 1931-2011 His charming ways and smiling face are a pleasure to recall.  He had a kindly word for each and died beloved by all.”)
  8. Give them a gift card to a restaurant or something fun.  It’s a crazy time and sometimes it’s simply the best to get away from it all for a little while and enjoy a free meal out or to take in a movie.
  9. Bring them a meal.  Often times with grieving the structure of a human mind is a complete fog and all apetite goes away.  Without the desire to eat no food is made and with a mind so foggy the mind is mostly incompetent to cooking anything anyway.
  10. Attend the funeral.  If someone close to you lost a loved one perhaps one of the biggest gifts you can give is honoring your friend and their loved one’s memory by attending the funeral   Last year at my grandpa’s funeral most of my dad’s side of the family, all of my mom’s best college girlfriends, and my cousin’s best friend came to the funeral.  I remember feeling so taken care of and surrounded by love because of this simple act of solidarity.
  11. Give money to the cause presented in the obituary.  Usually this cause has something to do with the way the loved one died.
  12. Offer to clean their house.  In this season there are a lot of visitors coming in and out of the house and/or lots of arrangements being made so household cleaning falls by the wayside.
  13. Deliver groceries.  Similarly to household cleaning, common tasks like taking the trash out and going grocery shopping don’t happen.  Taking care of menial tasks allows the family some more time and space to either take care of funeral arrangements, grieve, and readjust to a new sort of life.
  14. Say “I’m so sorry.”  So many people don’t know what to say.  I know it’s uncomfortable but all you really need to say is “I’m so sorry” and give them a big, wrap-your-arms-around-and-squeeze hug.  If they cry, hold them firmly until they stop.  If you have more time with them or want to say more simply ask questions about the lost loved one.  What were they like?  What are some of your favorite memories with your grandma?  Please don’t ask “Oh, were you close?”  I’ve found that whenever I’m asked that I feel like
  15. “I’d like to help lighten your load, what can I do?”  “What can I do to help?” is also worlds different than “let me know how I can help.”  The former ilicits a response and the latter is more generic and unreachable.  The latter is the kind of thing everyone says, sometimes hoping the person they say it to never actually asks for help.  I’ve had so many kind offers from friends that sound something like, “let me know how I can help.” It’s a very sweet offer but I find I don’t feel I can actually take friends up on a statement like that.  I still feel like I would be a burden or a nuisance or an annoyance to actually ask for help.
  16. Help bear the burden of the bad news.  My mom has been the chief of all news and, thus, her phone doesn’t stop ringing.  A great way to help your friend through their difficult time would be to personally help make phone calls to pass along the news and give the funeral/memorial service information.  You can even start a calling tree and rally some more friends to help make the calls to lessen the burden of the bereaved.
  17. Give money.  Sometimes families are left with outrageous funeral expenses or medical bills and will go into debt without help.  By giving the gift of money directly to the family you are enabling them to stay afloat and are helping relieve another stressor.

On a final note, the best words spoken to me in my time of grieving my grandpa were right before his funeral.  All the family was gathered in the foyer when my father-in-law, George Calhoun, told us all something like “let yourself feel whatever you are feeling.”  The idea behind that statement is that everyone grieves differently and it’s too easy to feel like you have to be crying all day every day and, heaven forbid, you laugh at all.