Many years ago, I started a tradition of giving my mother a present on my birthday. I figured she was the one who did all the work. I just showed up. One of the first of these gifts was a teddy bear dressed in a pink sweater. My name and date of birth were embroidered on the sweater. It was the perfect “It’s A Girl” present for a new mother. The “girl” in question was in her late thirties at the time.
My mom kept that bear safe for many a year. She moved the bear from travel trailer home to mobile home. The bear also made the trip from California to Florida. I think my mom got a kick out of my furry little avatar. She would sometimes play whimsical little tricks on me, featuring the Terri Bear. I’d sometimes find her in unexpected places, accompanied by notes from my mom telling me to have a good day or to remember to eat. Once, when I walked into my mom’s house, she had the bear wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket, snuggled in the corner of an overstuffed chair. When I laughed and pointed at the bear, my mother exclaimed, “well, it was freezing last night- I didn’t want her to get cold!” Heaven forbid.
When my mom moved to the rehab facility after her initial hospitalization, I brought some things from home. I brought her a blanket and some clothes and her wheelchair cushion. I also brought her the Terri Bear. I told her that, when I wasn’t with her, the bear could keep an eye on her and report back. We both enjoyed that idea. The bear was also a good conversation starter for anyone who came into her room.
As my mother transferred around to different medical facilities, we did manage to retain the blanket. Everything else ended up staying at the rehab place. There seemed to be many more important things to worry about than retrieving a bunch of stuff from a place where she would no longer reside. Basically, we were just talking about a bunch of old blouses and slacks. She had plenty of them and I could get her more, if need be. Somehow, the little Terri Bear got lost in the shuffle. It took a couple of months for me to realize it.
Once Terri Bear meandered back onto my mental radar screen, I felt sad that she was gone. I knew that I could probably make phone calls to the rehab facility or go over there and see if someone could look for her. The idea of actually talking to anyone there just seemed overwhelming to me. Actually, it seemed pretty impossible to me. I kept trying to convince myself that it wasn’t important enough to force myself to deal with the issue. Every time I thought about the bear, which was often, I felt sad, though. On the other hand, I just couldn’t seem to muster the energy to contact the rehab facility.
Why did it seem so hard for me to resolve the issue? I told myself that I have been spending so much time and energy doing things that are actually required to take care of my mother, the idea of taking on a task that was not absolutely necessary was just masochistic. I told myself that it would likely be an insurmountable chore to convince the rehab staff to search for the bear, especially given the length of time that had passed. I could foresee having to have multiple conversations, meeting with resistance, and finally being told that the rehab facility could not be responsible for items left unclaimed for so long. None of these stories that I told myself felt completely truthful, however.
Despite my arguments with myself, I could not bear to let the bear go. My brother had asked several times during my mother’s illness if there was anything he could do to help from California. My brother has a big heart and wants to do whatever he can, but he is not always able to follow through. He has struggled with that propensity frequently during this difficult journey. The other day when he asked again if there was anything he could do, I thought about the bear and decided to take him up on his offer. I explained that I really wanted the bear, but just couldn’t seem to make myself call the rehab facility or go into the building. I asked him if he could contact them and have them mail Terri Bear to me.
Bless him… he did contact the facility. Somehow, he ended up talking to the owner and she found Terri Bear right away. She wouldn’t agree to mail her to me, but did offer to keep her safe until I could pick her up. That would still entail me having to actually go into their building, but my brother worked with her so that I could simply go to the reception desk and pick up the bear without having to get into conversations and explanations.
Today, I felt a surge of emotional strength when I awoke and decided to try to retrieve my bear. After visiting my mother in the nursing home, I drove to the rehab facility. I sat in the car for a while, marshalling the necessary fortitude to get me inside the door. Finally, I took a deep breath and marched into the entrance. I saw the Terri Bear sitting behind the receptionist and said, “Oh, good…. You have my bear.” After looking at my identification (because of course there would be tons of other people who would want a twenty-something year old teddy bear wearing a sweater emblazoned with “Terri 09-30-59), she gave me the bear and I bolted to the door.
It turned out to be not quite so easy. I must have arrived at the end of a shift. As I walked back out into the parking lot, several different nursing aides who cared for my mother approached me to ask how she was doing and where she was. It was incredibly nice that they remembered my mother and recognized me, but these were still difficult conversations.
When I finally got back into my car, safe from further questions and explanations, I broke into sobs for the first time in a while. I think I finally understood what it was that I dreaded so much about facing the rehab facility again. The rehab facility was the first place where the spotlight shone on the reality of my mother’s condition. It was where both she and I most acutely and painfully mourned the loss of the kind of life she cherished. The rehab facility was also the last place we had hope that she would be able to recover enough physical and mental ability to live a new kind of life she could learn to love. In retrospect, I think the rehab facility was probably the place my mother decided not to try to prolong her life although it took me longer to come to understand that she had made that decision.
I think I’ve stabilized my grief about my mother’s illness. I am more able to handle myself and live life without being debilitated by sadness. My encounter at the rehab today showed me, though, that I still have a reservoir of pain dammed up in an area of my gut. It was suddenly so tangible. I could actually feel that pocket of pain on the right side of my abdomen, just about at my waist. It is kind of like an inflamed appendix that bursts, releasing lethal toxins into the body cavity. That reservoir of pain overflowed because of my encounter at the rehab facility, causing a kind of emotional peritonitis.
I really do appreciate that folks at the rehab facility still remember and think fondly of my mother, even months after she left there. It touched me when they asked about her. It reassured me that the people there did truly care for her while she lived there. On the other hand, the rehab facility does not hold happy associations for me and never will.
Still, I am happy to be reunited with Terri Bear and I am grateful to my brother for easing the way.
It’s your turn now. Do you have anything so wrapped up in emotions and memories that it has become more than just a piece of stuff? Have you ever lost that item? Please tell us about it! Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. in the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a wonderful day!