Handmade Quilt Creates ‘Invisible Thread’ Between Two Survivors of Loss

Image showing Derek VanLuchene and Pamela Foster holding a memorial quilt she made for him in tribute to his late brother and dog.
AATTAP Project Coordinator Derek VanLuchene and Symposium keynote speaker Pamela Foster show the art quilt Foster made for VanLuchene—and gave him during the Symposium. {Photo: AATTAP}

By Denise Gee Peacock

For those fortunate enough to witness it, one of the most moving moments of the 2024 AMBER Alert & AMBER Alert in Indian Country Symposium came in the guise of a small package—one that guest speaker Pamela Foster quietly handed to AATTAP CART Project Coordinator Derek VanLuchene.

Detail of quilt made by Pamela Foster for Derek VanLuchene. It shows Derek's late dog comforting his late brother, Ryan VanLuchene.
The quilt depicts Derek VanLuchene’s late dog, Herschel, watching over Derek’s late brother, Ryan VanLuchene, during a fishing outing. {Photo: AATTAP}

Both share a unique bond: Foster is the mother of Ashlynne Mike, who was abducted and murdered on the Navajo Nation in New Mexico when she was 11. And VanLuchene is the brother of Ryan VanLuchene, abducted at age 8 (in the presence of Derek, then 17) and later found murdered not far from his home in rural Montana. Like Ashlynne, Ryan was sexually assaulted before being killed. “The trauma of knowing that can be unbearable,” Foster says.

Foster and VanLuchene first met in 2019 at a Montana training conference with the Blackfeet Nation. “That’s when I heard his story,” she says. “I had no idea he and I were going through such similar emotions. And since then, our talks have given me such comfort.”

Around the time of their meeting, Foster was trying her hand at designing and sewing textile art.

“Quilting gave me an outlet to disappear from the world,” she says. “I started giving the quilts to others I’d befriended who were also going through grief.”

But she kept thinking of VanLuchene. What could she create for a former police officer “who’d pretty much seen it all—but also was a gentle soul,” a sibling-survivor of a violent crime?  “I wanted to give him something from my heart—especially because he’s doing such good work to help others find missing children,” she says.

Display text with this quote from Pamela Foster: "A lot of healing comes from friends. And now, through that quilt, there's an invisible thread that connects us. We are both survivors."She pondered the possibilities until last fall, when she learned VanLuchene’s beloved dog, Herschel, had died.

“That’s when the image came to me. I worked up the courage to design a quilt showing Ryan and Herschel together.” Whenever she found time, she worked on the gift, but only finished it the night before leaving her Southern California home to fly to New Orleans.

VanLuchene was deeply moved by the gesture. “What a special gift,” he says. “Herschel and I always shared a special connection. It was devastating when he passed this last October. In so many ways he was my comfort dog. So it gives me great peace to see him comforting my brother, Ryan, near the water, which they both loved.”

Derek VanLuchene has given the quilt pride of place in his home office. Pamela Foster is happy to know he will look at it often there. “I hope each time he sees it he’ll know just how much love it holds for him,” she says.