After her own grueling journey when her son underwent cancer treatment, the mother of two Tara Coombs from Kentucky is now determined to bring awareness and comfort to grieving parents by giving them a tangible reminder of the children they lost.
When Coombs’ son Owen, now 3, was diagnosed with stage 4 Wilms tumor, a cancer in children that starts in the kidneys, she experienced firsthand how difficult it is mentally, physically and emotionally to see how a child is undergoing treatment for a serious illness. . Owen is now in remission, but Coombs couldn’t stop thinking about what parents who lose their children go through in the process.
When her son Owen was diagnosed with a stage 4 Wilms tumor last year, Tara Coombs was shocked to discover that only 4% of government funding for cancer research goes to childhood cancer.
On the advice of her sister-in-law and to help her bond with other mothers dealing with childhood cancer, Coombs joined the social media app TikTok last summer. After following mother Rachel Hodgson and her daughter Tessa’s ultimately fatal battle with cancer through the app, Coombs was moved to contact Hodgson and offer her to make a quilt of Tessa’s onesies and pajamas on foot.
“I’ve been sewing all my life. I’ve never done it for money; it’s just something that makes me happy,” Coombs told TODAY Parents. After Hodgson sent her a large box of Tessa’s clothes, Coombs made a blanket for her and her other daughter.
After Coombs posted several videos of how to make Baby Tessa’s blanket, “things just blew up,” she explained. Requests from grieving parents poured in – first from parents who lost children to cancer, then parents who suffered pregnancies or stillbirths, or lost children in an accident.
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Coombs created memory quilts for each child using clothes and details sent by their families. She even tries to make sure that every blanket smells like the child, using the same baby lotion, shampoo, or perfume the kids used to smell the blankets before sending them home.
The hardest part of the process, she said, is opening the box with the kids’ stuff for the first time.
“It takes a mental toll,” said Coombs. “Each one is a whole new story, a whole new loss. But I remind myself that the parent has been through this. Can you imagine how hard it is for a parent to send me that box, to get their child’s Search and pack it? and send it to me? Confidence that they should? “
She makes the quilts like a labor of love, she said. “The stories of these children need to be told, and these parents need to know that their children will not be forgotten.”
Coombs never charges the families for supplies or labor in making the blankets, and she relies on donations from followers to fund her efforts.
“When we underwent Owen’s cancer treatment, we were hit so hard mentally and so hard financially,” she said. “I can’t imagine what it would feel like for a parent who has been through this and still can’t keep their child? They had the mental toll, the financial toll, and now they don’t have their child anymore?
Parents just got through the battle they endured. The last thing they need to worry about is a blanket that will provide them with some sort of comfort. ‘
In making the quilts, Coombs is aware that her materials are sacred to the families she supports. She handles the clothes with care, and she assures the families she never expects to publicly report their receipt. She also refuses to make “surprise blankets” for grieving parents of well-meaning friends or relatives.
“Parents need to be able to emotionally have all the feelings they need, and those feelings are valid no matter what they are,” she said. ‘This is not a good idea to surprise. Once their children’s clothes have been cut out and put in a blanket, there is no going back. They have to be ready. ‘
Kentucky mom Tara Coombs, 30, makes memory quilts of kids’ clothes as gifts for grieving parents, often while caring for Owen, 3, and Taylor, 1.
Now Coombs is trying to figure out how to support more families. Her current waiting list is in the thousands, but she’s determined to go ahead and draw attention to a target that strikes so close to home. “Only 4% of government funding for cancer research goes to childhood cancers, which is terrible,” she said. “That’s not okay.”
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Allison Slater Tate