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Remembering Michele Hymel

I’ve been negligent about posting this past month.  It’s been a challenging 30 days. 

Today was the memorial service for my long-time friend and invaluable assistant, Michele Hymel.  The celebration of her life took place outdoors in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains, as she would have wished.  Michele Can Do AttitudeSome of my best friends in the whole world are the ones that I met in quilting classes.  Such was the case with Michele, who I met back in the late 1990s when she took my design class at Bernina Sewing Center in Albuquerque, NM.  I liked her immediately and marveled at her ‘can do’ attitude.  She embraced life and exuded positivity.

Goose is Loose Quilt by Michele

Goose is Loose Quilt by Michele

In fact, it wasn’t long after that class that she finished her first original design.  We soon became fast friends and she joined my small group, Designing Women.  Little did we know how close our friendship would become.

On Golden Pond by Michele Hymen

On Golden Pond by Michele Hymel

Michele designed this whimsical piece for my book, Flying Colors, published in 2010.  Overall, she was one of the most productive and creative members of our group, one who could always be counted on when something needed doing.

Spiral Galaxy by Michele Hymel

Spiral Galaxy by Michele Hymel

Sometimes she surprised us by bringing a completed quilt for show and tell, one that none of us had ever heard about before.

Working with me at Gail Garber Designs

Working with me at Gail Garber Designs

Several years ago she joined Donna Barnitz and me at my home based Gail Garber Designs.  Michele was a wiz at everything, especially all-things-computer, an area where Donna and I were less than stellar.

Quilting at the Cabin - Hawks Aloft style

Quilting at the Cabin – Hawks Aloft style

Michele also jumped into Hawks Aloft, the conservation organization that is so close to my heart, with enthusiasm, becoming a regular at the annual Hawks Aloft quilt retreats, where we stitch a quilt top in one day!!  We could always count on Michele to finish those final seams.

Michele Finishes the Hawks Aloft Raffle Quilt

Michele Finishes the Hawks Aloft Raffle Quilt

Not long after Michele began attending the retreat, Mike, her hubby, joined our team.  It was then, and remains his job now to accurately cut the fabrics, trim the blocks and help in the organizational process.

Michele and Mike Hymel, married 40 years.

Michele and Mike Hymel

Michele loved to hike and be outdoors as much as possible.  Above she is with her husband of 40 years, Mike, as we hiked in the Jemez Mountains.  Her other passion was scuba, which she learned so that she could partake of that sport when she visited her son, Kent, who was working in Australia.  Scuba was Michele’s solo sport, one that none of her quilting friends or Mike practiced.  So it was that in spring of 2012, Michele went with some of her Texas friends to Roatan, off the coast of Venezuela, for a scuba trip.  While there, she had a nagging pain in her back beneath her shoulder blades.  Upon her return, several doctor’s visits revealed the worst, stage 4 lung cancer!  She immediately embarked on a regime of radiation and chemo.  The rest of us set about doing what quilters do for each other – making a friendship quilt.

Giving Michele the Quilt

Giving Michele the Quilt

We  hurried as fast as possible and were able to surprise Michele with this friendship quilt just before her second chemo treatment.

Chocolate - Michele's favorite!

Chocolate – Michele’s favorite!

We even made a little party of the evening, presenting her with her favorite dessert, chocolate and more chocolate.  As the chemo progressed, Michele was very ill and so nauseated that there was little she could eat.  As she lost weight, we all worried about the prognosis.  Eventually, this particular cocktail of drugs ceased to halt the spread of the cancer.  A new treatment, one with far fewer side effects, ensued.

Michele, Me, Cynthia Figueroa-McInteer, and Mary Chappelle

Michele, Me, Cynthia Figueroa-McInteer, and Mary Chappelle

She had some bad days, but far more good days, and they were predictable.  So, we traveled to some of the places she wanted to see.  It was in the spring of 2013 that two of my quilts were accepted into the National Quilt Museum.  Michele said, “I’ve never been to Paducah!”.  So four of us set off on a long April weekend to visit the museum.  Here we are dining at Flamingo Row, one of the best Paducah restaurants!

At the National Quilt Museum

At the National Quilt Museum

The museum is, of course, an amazing experience!  Seeing my quilts hanging on the walls was thrilling for all of us, but perhaps most of all for Michele.  We adjourned to Hancock Fabrics, a.k.a. Mecca to quilters and it was then that I noticed that, while the rest of us were merrily shopping away, Michele didn’t take home anything.

Michele Birds Alaska

Michele Birds Alaska

In June, Michele traveled with me to Alaska, where Maret Anderson, owner of Seams Like Home Quilting in Anchorage, had hired me to teach at her annual retreat at Halibut Cove, Alaska, across Katchemak Bay from Homer.  We birded along the way, stopping first at the famed Potter’s Marsh.

Tide pooling

Tide pooling

At the lodge, with the long days of summer, we had ample time to explore our surroundings, doing things like checking on tide pool creatures like this star fish.  Did you know that when you turn them upside down, they immediately begin to right themselves by moving short tentacle-like extensions on their backs in unison/  It feels very weird.

Sea Kayaking

Sea Kayaking

We went sea kayaking too, another first for Michele!

Michele appliques

Michele appliques

And, while I taught class, Michele hand appliqued a quilt for her grandson, Henry, who was two years old at that time.

Michele had one more grand adventure in July 2013 when she traveled with all of her family to Hawaii.  She was still working for me at the time, but I could tell that she was often in pain, although she never once complained and definitely did not whine!  She confided that she was afraid the drugs were no longer working.  Her fears became reality during the next round of scans that showed the cancer had spread.  She entered hospice care in October last fall, and was able to remain at home throughout, thanks to the devoted nursing of her husband and life companion, Mike. She said good-bye to this life on April 8, 2014, while I was away teaching in New Bern, NC.  I had known the end was near, but didn’t know exactly when the time would come.

Michele enriched my life so greatly and I cherish the memories that I will always have of her.  Those who counted her as a friend are amazingly lucky to have known this incredible woman.

If You Want to Make a Pie

If You Want to Make a Pie

A while back, before the dreadful diagnosis, Michele made this little quilt for me.  It epitomizes her intelligence, someone who always thought outside the box.  I miss her terribly.

I know this is a long post, but a necessary one for me.  Michele had never smoked.  Another friend of mine was diagnosed with the same exact cancer, one year later.  Now, she remains on chemo, her outcome as yet undetermined.  She also did not smoke.  Lung cancer remains the number one killer of women, and non-smokers lung cancer is rarely diagnosed until the latest stages.  It seems so unfair that this disease remains one for which there is no routine screening.   Please!  Next time you go for an annual checkup, ask your physician for a chest x-ray.  It might save your life.

9 Responses to “Remembering Michele Hymel”

  1. Marcia Kammann says:

    What a heartfelt tribute to your friend. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Janice says:

    Gail A loving and lovely tribute. You are a grand friend.

  3. Gail Garber says:

    Thanks Marcia!

  4. Gail Garber says:

    Thanks Janice!

  5. Irene Quednow says:

    Gail, Thank you for this tribute to a wonderful woman. I only met her briefly at the retreat in Halibut Cove, but she was so positive and uplifting and kind to all. I have very fond memories of her.

    I am very sorry for your loss and please convey that to her husband too.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Sue Roesner says:

    Lovely tribute for a wonderful friend. Thank you for sharing these memories with us. I didn’t know Michele, but now I will miss her, too.

  7. diane says:

    Your tribute had to be. What a good friend she was to you and you to her. A friendship that doesn’t go away even with passing. Lost my best friend 20 years ago and still miss and think of her often. I’m glad you shared. Part of your healing journey.

  8. Patti Bachelder says:

    I found your Facebook page while looking online for a photo of a quilt and thought, you look exactly the same as you did “back in the day.” (You know, I think of you every time I see a hot air balloon or a big bird in the distant sky — I don’t know a lot about either but what I do know is because I met you!) And then I read the top post on the page and came here to read about your friendship with Michele. I’m sorry that you and her husband and many friends have lost a dear companion and glad that your lives were made richer by time spent together.

  9. Beautifully written, Gail. Sorry for your loss. Glad you and Michele had each other as such good friend. peace, mjh

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