Diane Pryor-Holland finds peace every time she sits at her sewing machine.
It's a nice feeling for a woman who felt her life unravel after her husband, police officer Richard Holland, died six years ago of kidney cancer linked to the toxic air he had inhaled in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.
"When he passed, my world has never been the same," Pryor-Holland tearfully told us. "It's getting better now, but I miss my best friend."
Pryor-Holland says life only started to improve four years ago after meeting Bertha Merriweather and Dolores Weiner, two women who knew what she was going through. Merriweather lost her detective son Tommy to a 9/11-related cancer in 2013.
"It's very hard. It's very, very hard," she told us.
Weiner's brother Thomas died of a 9/11-related illness in 2003.
"We have an angel looking out for us now," Weiner said. "And believe me, he takes care of us."
The three instantly bonded. Across long phone conversations and lunches, tears eventually turned to laughter.
"The good thing is, we're good listeners for each other and we comfort each other," said Pryor-Holland.
They're now strong enough to comfort others. Two years ago, they formed H.O.P.S, which is short for "Helping Our Post-9/11 Survivors." The group's mission is to make a quilt for every NYPD family who has lost a loved one to a 9/11-related illness.
"Take it, wrap yourself in it, remember your loved one, remember us, that we're all a family," Weiner said.
Of the three, only Pryor-Holland sews. But they've enlisted volunteers to help. Recently, they held a quilting bee at police headquarters, where people gathered, sewed and presented to the grieving the ultimate gift of comfort.
Simone Fisher's father died of a 9/11-related cancer a decade ago.
"I thought it was a beautiful gesture," said Fisher. "And for them to think of something like that was very lovely."
"All the love," Merriweather said. "And the quilts are so beautiful. Do you believe that? You sit down and do a quilt in honor of somebody you don't even really know."
Pryor-Holland jokes Merriweather and Weiner will eventually learn to sew.
"Yes, yes," she said with a laugh.
The group has made 72 quilts so far, but they have many more to go. At least 156 officers have died of 9/11-related illnesses.
"As long as we're able, these quilts are going to be made because I know what it feels like to lose somebody you love," said Pryor-Holland.
Sewing, they say, to mend their lives, and the lives of others.
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