From quilts to embroidery: Creative ways artists memorialize those who've passed away.
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Prudential

Everyone who's lost a loved one has memories and stories of them that they will always treasure.

Talking about those memories and sharing them with others can help people cope with grief and also to celebrate the legacy of their loved one. Something else that's a good healing tool? Art.

Artist Bisa Butler uses quilting to memorialize those who've died.  

"I’ve suffered loss and I know that longing for that person," she said.


For the past 15 years, Butler has turned loss into warmth and comfort through commemorative quilts. She bases her quilts on photographs of loved ones — including her own grandmother as she neared the end of life. Butler works to find ways to pour extra meaning into her quilts; for her grandmother's quilt, for example, she incorporated violets into the pattern because that was also her grandmother's name.

When Butler was tasked with making a quilt to honor the late Howard Fitch, she used parts of a military shirt to commemorate his service and commitment to his country.

"Abundant Blessings" image via Bisa Butler, used with permission.

Butler made the quilt for Dawn Fitch, Howard's daughter, as part of Prudential's "Masterpiece of Love" campaign. The series honors life, love, loss, and the power of the human spirit by bringing together four artists with four survivors of loss to create works that celebrate their loved ones.

Butler's quilt of Fitch was intended not only to celebrate him, but to provide comfort and protection to his family.

"For me, the very nature of looking at fabric stitched is a comfort," she said. "For people to have that tangible piece, it's not only something nice to look at, it's something nice to touch."

Artist Christine DaCruz discovered a different way of interpreting death — through an embroidery project.

During an artist residency that focused on how news is interpreted, DaCruz got an idea to embroider obituaries from The New York Times.

"The shift became to not necessarily talk about their death but to reflect on their life," she said. "I thought the New York Times' obituaries did such a good job at collecting the stories of how these people lived and what was important to them."

Image from "The Obituaries" via Christine DaCruz, used with permission.

In "The Obituaries," a series that can be found on her website, DaCruz takes photographs used in obituaries and hand-stitches colored thread through the paper to embellish the photos. What makes them extra interesting is how she draws outside of the cropped photo images to include what she imagines the rest of the photo to look like.

Image from "The Obituaries" via Christine DaCruz, used with permission.

It's just one way she likes to celebrate life and learn people's histories — even if they may be strangers.

"We are all affected by [death]," DaCruz noted, "but just reflecting on the person's life and all the good they brought into the world and how they affected people positively is a way to embrace and celebrate them."

When DaCruz was asked to memorialize the life of Mickey McNany, she knew just the route to take.

Mickey, the late mother of Ryan McNany, is another of the loved ones featured in Prudential's "Masterpiece of Love" series.

McNany was the founding director of the Theatre School at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Even after losing her fight with late-stage cancer, she continues to touch countless lives; 87% of the kids McNany mentored throughout the years have ended up in a career in theater arts.

"She was a force to be reckoned with," said DaCruz, after learning McNany's story.

Mickey McNany. Image via Prudential, used with permission.

McNany helped so many people realize their dreams, DaCruz thought, so why not give her her own playbill cover?

DaCruz used inspiration for the piece "Show Biz Kid" from a photo of McNany doing what she loved: teaching.

"Showbiz Kid" by Christine DaCruz. Image via Prudential, used with permission.

"She motivated all these kids to get out on stage and break out of their isolated boxes," DaCruz recalled. "She helped them come out of her comfort zone."

Art — whether it’s writing, painting, dancing, observing, or something else — can be a productive outlet to promote healing and expression.

There's a reason art therapy is becoming an increasingly popular method of care. Art, prayer, and healing can help to bring one's thoughts inward, and that journey can be deeply transformative.

"People really connect with art," DaCruz said. "Even if they don’t visit museums on a regular basis, everybody is drawn to something beautiful, especially if it’s about something they recognize."

"What’s more recognizable than somebody they love?"

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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