Libby Ryan’s Gift of Dignity

Libby Ryan really only picked up quilting as a hobby when she retired from her career as an occupational therapist, though that means she has more than 30 years of practice in the art.

Libby Ryan and the dignity quilt she made for Tansley Woods.

It’s a passion, she says. Wall hangings or baby’s quilts all come together under the expert guidance of her worn fingers and hands, though these days much of her work is done by machine. Arthritis, you see, has taken its toll. Her tidy suite in The Village of Tansley Woods takes on the air of an artist’s abode, for the evidence of her work is everywhere. A drawer is filled with small tape measures, fabric is placed neatly near the sewing machine and several quilts are draped over her furniture – summer coverings, as she describes them, to protect the furniture fabric from the rays of the sun that blast through her many windows.  

There is one quilt in The Village that is a great source of pride in Libby’s heart. Others know it as well. Downstairs over coffee a few fellow residents perk up when they hear a story is to be written about it. “It’s a beautiful piece,” one woman remarks. “Libby’s a talented person,” says another and the group nods in agreement.

In the Chapel, Libby pulls the Dignity Quilt off the rack where it hangs awaiting the next time it will gracefully drape over the departing body of a resident who’s taken their final breath and is leaving the village for the last time. She carefully unfolds it, revealing the soft earthy colours and the gentle, elegant pattern.

As she looks over her gift to the village, she explains how two weeks after she moved to Tansley Woods she saw a procession saying goodbye to a resident from long-term care who’d passed away.

A beautiful quilt she later learned came from the hand and heart of a resident’s wife was over the body and Libby decided then and there she’d do the same. 

“It took me two years because my hands aren’t that good and my eyes aren’t that good,” she says. But her heart is full of care for others so she put the quilt she calls Farewell together piece by piece and is happy to offer it as a sign of comfort and compassion for departing neighbours and their loved ones.

“I hope it will be used for me,” Libby says, “because for me, a quilt means warmth and simplicity and you need warmth and simplicity when you’re leaving this world.”

Village Chaplain Ray Swash is in the chapel as Libby refolds the quilt to place in its resting spot. He takes a moment to explain that area funeral homes have commented to him about the special manner in which the dignity a resident at Tansley Woods is honoured after they pass away.

Libby’s gift is a part of that sense of honour, Ray says, and for that she is right to be proud.