ANTIGO — Vicky Adamski has cried on her pillow many times over her seven-plus decades.
From age 2, when her older sister saved her from a fire that devastated their family’s rural Antigo home, through recent health scares with her only daughter, Adamski has learned the cathartic power of tears and prayer.
And she has transformed that power into a unique ministry, “Pillowcase and a Prayer.”
“I donate them to people who have cancer and those just in need of comforting, letting them know someone is thinking of them,” Adamski said. “This is something that I have a calling to do.”
Adamski grew up in a family of strong faith and is a lifelong member of St. John the Evangelist Parish. Her parents, Jim and Dorothy Breitenfeldt, stressed the value of prayer and the rosary, which her father taught her at a young age.
“We would go to the 6 a.m. Mass after farm chores. It was said in Latin, which my father didn’t know, so he would sit and recite the rosary,” Adamski recalled. “He made us sit up front so we wouldn’t fall asleep that early in the morning.”
With that early grounding in prayer, threads for the pillowcase project were soon spun. Five years after that devastating house fire, Adamski’s mother taught her to sew, a skill she quickly mastered and continues to enjoy.
As her spiritual life grew, her parents urged caution.
“When I was about 13 years old, I wanted to enter the convent right after eighth grade,” Adamski said. “My parents felt I was not old enough to make that decision on my own so I went on to high school.”
There she met her future husband, Gary, and they were married several years later. “God obviously had other plans for me than the convent,” she said. “Next spring we will celebrate our 50th anniversary.”
Prayer continued to be a part of everyday life, growing after the couple’s first child, Tina Marie, was born prematurely and with Cerebral Palsy. Adamski recalled questioning why God had allowed this to happen and shared the concern with her mother after a particularly tough day.
“I’ll never forget her words,” she said. “She explained that God gives these children to very special people and that God knew Gary and I could handle this. He knew we would give her a wonderful life.”
More help came in the form of Sr. Francine Kosednar at Aspirus Wausau Hospital, her daughter’s occupational therapist.
“Sr. Francine helped us through a new journey in life,” Adamski said. “We took Tina to therapy with sister for 16 years, hardly missing a week. She inspired us to understand what a special child Tina was.”
The Adamskis were sent reeling again after the birth of their son, Jim. At about 18 months old, he developed Salmonella with a high fever and doctors feared for his life.
“We turned to God with prayers to help us through this, too,” Adamski said. “Our prayers were answered and Jim was discharged from the hospital just before Christmas.”
The Adamski children are now grown and successful adults. Adamski retired a few years ago as Langlade County clerk of circuit court and she and her husband settled into a successful maple sugar bush business.
A new family crisis occurred when Tina Marie, now married and living in Florida, called home with news of a possible breast cancer diagnosis.
“I felt like my world was coming to an end,” Adamski said. “That night I was crying on my pillow and something told me to quit feeling sorry for myself.”
That was the final thread needed for the pillowcase project.
As she lay sleepless, Adamski thought about the people in the world who do not have a pillow or pillowcase to cry on. As she held her rosary and prayed for another in a long list of favors from God, the idea grew to use her sewing talents for the new ministry, “Pillowcase and a Prayer.”
Adamski’s prayers were answered when her daughter’s cancer fears proved wrong, but she delayed the sewing project while caring for her mother, who was in an assisted living facility. After she died, “the idea of sewing those pillowcases came back.”
She decided each should be accompanied by a prayer, which she wrote. It speaks of shedding tears, softness that brings peace, tenderness to take away fears and the need to “hold it tight.”
“May tomorrow be blessed with a new day, as I put my worries upon this pillowcase, I pray. Amen,” the prayer concludes.
The response, she said, has been astounding.
In just a few months, she made almost 100 pillowcases, donating them to the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, the local shelter for sexual and domestic abuse victims, and to people who she learns are dealing with health or grief issues. She also sells them at craft fairs.
“It’s just spread,” Adamski said. “One woman told me that cards are nice, but you put them away and flowers eventually die. She told me she would keep this prayer, pillow and pillowcase for the rest of her life.”
Adamski said she feels her life experiences, especially those involving her family, all guided her toward the pillowcase project.
“I firmly believe in the power of prayer. I say the rosary not only when asking God for favors but also to thank him for the many blessings our family has,” she said. “If through this project I can help make one night seem a little tender for someone in need, I’ve accomplished the purpose of my pillowcases.”