WACO, Texas — Whenever someone loses a loved one, their presence often lingers long after they are gone. Through collectibles and clothing, it can be overwhelming to decide what to do with the things they once loved.
For nearly nine years Carla Kunze has been without her husband Sgt. 1st Class Detlef Kunze. The two were inseparable for decades and patriotic as ever.
Mrs. Kunze said, "We actually met on the 4th of July so we chose to get married on the 4th of July. He loves Eagles we have red, white, and blue everywhere."
The Kunze's worked their land that Mr. Kunze affectionately called Carla and D's Junction.
"We both like the outdoors so I’d be out there helping him. We would get rocks to make our gardens and just plant flowers. We had a vegetable garden," Mrs. Kunze said.
Mr. Kunze served our country for two decades, however, it was Operation Desert Storm that changed things.
"He got sick and we couldn’t do the garden anymore because taking care of him became the priority," Mrs. Kunze said.
"In 2012 he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. They just told us it wasn’t service-connected, but he didn't have any issues before he went to desert storm, he had it when he came back. I think something happen over there that nobody knows, and he paid the price."
After her husband was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, Mrs. Kunze poured herself into him.
Mrs. Kunze was familiar with being a caretaker having taken care of loved ones in the past. Caring for and eventually losing her husband was a gut-wrenching loss she still feels today.
Mrs. Kunze said, "When my mother died it hurt. When my dad died it really hurt because I was a daddy‘s girl but I had my husband to lean on. When my husband died, I really had nobody to lean on. My world as I knew it was suddenly gone in a flash."
Once she buried her husband, reminders of him still lingered.
From their initials on the outside of their home to the bluebonnet, railroad, and cowboy decor inside; he was everywhere.
However, nothing compared to her husband's T-shirt collection.
"He had so many shirts. I was just one day thinking what can I do with this and then I had seen something about Laura making quilts," Mrs. Kunze said.
A few months after she laid her husband to rest, Mrs. Kunze reached out to Laura Winckel, the creator of Quality Quilts by Laura who has a gift for making custom memory quilts.
Winckel turned some of Mr. Kunze's t-shirts into priceless works of art.
"You make the memories and I make the quilts. You’re giving peace and love to people through the fabric it’s a healing process," Winckel said.
Winckel discovered her passion for quilting after seeing how her art helped people through their darkest moments.
She's won numerous awards from competitive quilt shows, designs and creates Quilts of Valor, and has received congressional recognition for her priceless work. Through it all, Winckel has channeled her own loss into hundreds of memory quilts.
"My husband and I lost 8 children by miscarriage and a 3-year-old god wanted to call home. It’s extremely healing. Quilts equal healing. Quilts equal healing for me," said Winckel.
"It’s an honor it’s a real honor sometimes you get frustrated and sometimes you worry are they going to like it and then they come in and they look at the quilt and they go that’s my dad that’s my mom."
Winckel has made two memory quilts so far for Mrs. Kunze, with some more in the works.
"It represents who he is. It represents who he is," Mrs. Kunze said.
"She’s making right now is specifically for him because the same square will be the material from the shirt that we got married and that he married me in so that quilt is specifically for me."
Winckel said, "I’m working on those as we speak very patriotic and lots of trains, he collected trains."
With her quilt wrapped around her, Mrs. Kunze said, "People tell you their seven stages of grief but I’m here to tell you there’s a whole lot more. There are so many triggers, sights, sounds smells, but I'm okay."