Read Time: 3 minutes
Updated July 2023
Originally Published July 2019
Audrey Matthews has a unique way of honoring the memory of her daughter Natalie, who died in a car accident at the age of 19. Twice a year, on Natalie’s birthday and the anniversary of her death, Audrey and her family donate quilts through their nonprofit, 19 Quilts for Natalie.
The quilts go to three groups: mothers grieving the loss of a child; Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City, where Audrey did a clinical rotation as a nursing student; and Huntsman Cancer Institute, where she worked as a nurse for several years. According to Audrey, Huntsman Cancer Institute was a special place for both of them. Natalie loved visiting her mom as well as the patients.
“We would have dinners together at the Bistro,” says Audrey. “If I had to work holidays, she would come spend those holidays with me and the patients at the hospital. I’ll always have sweet memories of watching fireworks out the west windows on New Year’s Eve with my baby girl. She loved Huntsman Cancer Institute as much as I did.”
Audrey and Natalie had a very close bond, and she was adored by her five older siblings. Audrey says Natalie was everyone’s best friend. She loved everyone she met and everyone loved her. She had the brightest smile and the biggest laugh. She lit up any room she was in.
On July 9, 2014, Natalie and Audrey were driving home to St. George, Utah, from Salt Lake City. Just thirty miles north of St. George, their lives changed in an instant. Natalie was behind the wheel when she swerved to avoid hitting a deer in the middle of the freeway. She overcorrected and hit the metal barrier, catapulting their car off the freeway and down an embankment. Natalie was killed instantly. She was only 19 years old.
The family has shared her story with Zero Fatalities, a safety campaign with a goal of eliminating accident deaths on Utah’s roads. Although the first responders stated Natalie would not have survived her injuries even if she had been wearing a seat belt, her family wants to shine a spotlight on the importance of buckling up.
“We want everyone to not have to live through the heartache we have lived through,” the family says on their website. “If there is any chance this could save your child’s life, we want Natalie’s story to help you. Please wear your seatbelt, and make sure your kids’ seatbelts are engaged and worn properly. [Natalie’s death] has been the worst thing our family has gone through. You don’t want to live a life without one of your precious children.”
Shortly before Natalie died, her mom had learned to quilt. After the accident, Audrey packed up her sewing machine while she dealt with her grief and PTSD. But she noticed Natalie’s friends were struggling with her passing and she wanted to help them. She decided to make quilts for all of Natalie’s friends. Her goal was to make 19 quilts since Natalie was 19 when she passed away.
What started as a way to comfort grieving friends has become an organization that provides comfort to countless strangers. Audrey started alone, but then the quilting community got wind of her project. They send finished quilts, quilt tops, fabric to be made into quilts, or monetary donations.
In addition to donating to the hospitals, Audrey also makes quilts for grieving mothers because she understands their pain.
“I was drawn to making quilts for other grieving mothers to comfort them. I knew their pain and sorrow,” she says. “I have so enjoyed getting to know these mothers, and occasionally fathers, and their wonderful angel children. It has been a joy trying to comfort them. I lift, while my heart still feels so heavy in my own grieving process. It has lifted me.”
Though nothing can take away the pain of losing a child, Audrey says she has found comfort in giving and in honoring Natalie’s legacy of love.