Busy hands, healing hearts

Author finds solace in knitting circle after death of daughter


Ann Hood had always used reading and writing to transport or comfort herself.

She had developed a successful career as a journalist and prolific writer of short stories and novels.

“Even as a young kid I wrote stories to make myself feel better or understand what was going on around me,” she said.

Ms. Hood’s life was made all the more fulfilling by her husband and their two children, Sam and Grace. Then in April 2002, everything changed.

Grace, who was 5, came down with a virulent form of strep infection that bypassed her throat and attacked her organs. For children and the elderly, the illness is nearly always fatal. Grace developed a fever and was rushed to the hospital. Doctors worked desperately for 36 hours to try to save her life, but her heart had been ravaged. Grace died.

Ms. Hood was left nearly immobilized by her grief. She tried to turn to reading, but the words on the page made no sense to her. She learned later that grieving is such hard work it leaves no energy for concentration. For six months, she was paralyzed by frustration and unimaginable sadness. Then a friend urged her to stop trying to use her mind and instead use her hands.

And that is how Ms. Hood turned to knitting, a form of therapy that restored some measure of inner peace, allowing her to reassemble her life and start writing again. In 2007, five years after Grace’s death, she published “The Knitting Circle,” a novel that drew on her own emotional turmoil. The plot revolves around characters linked by a knitting circle who experience guilt, hope, denial and resignation as their skills grow and they move toward healing. Ms. Hood will be at the Worcester Center for Crafts at 6 tomorrow evening to talk about her novel and the role knitting plays in her life.

When her friend suggested that she take up the craft, Ms. Hood couldn’t imagine it.

“Normally, I think that suggestion would have made me laugh,” she said. “I am clumsy, but I was so eager for solace I went and had my first lesson.”

Ms. Hood traveled a distance from her home in Providence to a store in Tiverton, R.I., to escape casual acquaintances who knew her story. The young proprietor suggested she join the store’s knitting circle; she and several good friends took the owner up on her offer.

“We’d have dinner first and then knit for two or three hours,” Ms. Hood said. “I found that in the circle there was a lot of silence. Every once in a while someone would say something so revelatory and personal. Knitting created that environment.”

Ms. Hood recalled a woman who said one day that it was the birthday of a daughter who had died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and that she would never forget her child.

“People kept knitting,” Ms. Hood said. “Someone nodded and another person touched her arm. That kind of personal comment made me realize how the knitting community was such a support for me, even though I wasn’t talking about what had happened to me.”

The seeds of the book were born in that circle, although Ms. Hood never did reveal what had happened to Grace.

“While I was writing my novel I wrote an article about knitting and grief,” she said.

“Many people saw it. That’s how my knitting store found out.”

Over time, she joined several knitting circles. She and her husband adopted a baby girl from China whom they named Annabelle. Eventually, Ms. Hood was able to write her own story, and it was published earlier this year as a memoir, “Comfort: A Journey Through Grief.”

Ms. Hood said she is often asked whether she still knits. She referred to an essay she wrote that appears on www.powells.com, the Web site of Powell’s Books.

In the essay, Ms. Hood recounts how one morning several years after Grace died she was suddenly overcome with grief as she went for a cup of latte. She returned home and picked up her knitting needles “and did that most simple form of comfort: knit one, purl one.”

“Row after row, until soon the rhythm of that action, the click of the needles, the yarn in my lap, worked their magic once again to soothe my broken heart. Still knitting? I am asked. Yes. I imagine I will be knitting for the rest of my life.”