This is written in response to this week’s Writing Workshop Prompt, to write about a possession that holds meaning to you:
He has brown fur and big grey feet. A black nose and black button eyes. A grey ribbon that over the years, has lost its bow, but still hangs loosely around his neck. He seems somber but also thoughtful. Ruminative.
This was a stuffed bear my mother bought for my father 18 years ago when he was in a nursing home. By then he had stopped walking and only spoke in a small whisper. He knew who we were but other than that, he thought he was on a cruise ship.
At the time, I resented her buying the bear. As if he were a child. It seemed disrespectful. “I think it will bring him comfort,” she’d protested.
And it did. He would play with it on the tray of his wheelchair. He would make it dance. It would make him smile.
The bear was with him when he died. His dying began at breakfast one morning, when he turned completely blue while eat scrambled eggs. His doctor told us he had congestive heart failure and most likely wouldn’t make it through the next 24 hours.
By the time my mother and I got there, he was agitated, trying to pull himself up by his bed rail, his mouth open in horror, revealing bits of egg still in his teeth. I knew that he knew he was dying and that he was terrified. I whispered in his ear that we were back at the lake where we spent our summers, and wasn’t it a beautiful day and we would take a swim soon. I babbled on to calm him down, but nothing can calm the fear of dying. Until he began to calm down only because he was weakening and beginning to lose consciousness; there would be moments of that agitation, but more moments of utter calm when he would stare at us without seeing. I settled the soft bear close to his cheek.
We weren’t there when my father actually died. My mother, nearly 80 then, was faint with exhaustion and the drive home was a long one.
He wound up dying “quietly” the nurse told us, at 3am. With the bear beside him.
I kept the bear in a box, along with an old shirt and drawings my father drew when they’d let him sit near the nursing station. My father had been a historian and history professor, but toward the end, when he no longer could understand the difference between day and night, he wrote poetry and drew pictures of birds.
When my boys were little, at some point they discovered the box and pulled out the bear. To them, he was a delightful surprise. Their delight reminded me of my father’s. They too made him dance.
To me, this bear is all about my father. What he was reduced to at the end of his life. And the fact that he wound up having to die alone. But he sits out now in plain sight. And I do try to remember that this little stuffed animal brought some of the last true delights my father was able to relish at the end of his life. And when I glance his way, I recognize wisdom in that ruminative look, as he was able to know my father until the very end.