I can’t stop petting it. I keep stroking a leg or rubbing an ear, squeezing it closer into my body as I do. I know that a grown woman holding and patting a teddy bear must be pretty strange. But I don’t care. I know I could have placed the teddy bear on the floorboard of the car or sat it next to my daughter for the car ride home. I know having it on my lap makes little to no sense and yet I keep it there, petting it, hugging it tighter into my body as I do. Because this bear has suddenly become everything. Because this bear has given me just a little semblance of something I’ve missed horribly; Ukiah.
Since Ukiah’s passing, one thing that I missed terribly was the weight of him on my lap. I use to joke that I have phantom lap pains because my chest, the place where his head would lay as he slept so many nights on the couch, would ache for no reason. All I’ve wanted/needed was to put that familiar weight back on my lap again.
My daughter’s weight, although similar is a weight all her own. I’ve never compared the two. Nor has Loralei’s weight replaced Ukiah’s in my mind. They are both separate but equal. When Loralei sits in my lap, she’s not taking his place, she’s taking her own rightful place there. But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the place he use to take. I still miss it terribly.
George Mark House was expecting us. I’d called earlier that day and told them we were coming. I’d spoken to one of my favorite people there at the house that morning. I wasn’t expecting that the metaphorical red carpet would be rolled out for our arrival but it certainly seemed that way. My daughter wasn’t feeling well, and everyone was bending over backwards to please her, because that’s how they are.
They offered her juice boxes and cookies and tried to do anything to make her smile. It didn’t work but that didn’t keep them from trying. Everyone was all warm smiles and even warmer hugs. This never surprises me. Ken Sommer, the director at George Mark even took time out of his busy schedule to come talk to me personally. He said something that I’ve heard over and over again at George Mark but that never ceases to surprise me when I’m there. “It’s your home.” It was said with a shrug, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
And it is my home. There’s a sort of peace there, a comfort in looking around. A smile crosses my face when I spy one of the eight mural-painted patient rooms. When I’m there by myself, I walk the halls. It’s the same ritual I perform at my Aunt Clare’s house. I have to see all the places that have filled me with comfort and love.
Today I settle for seeing some of the people I love. There are the two familiar faces in the front office along with Ken’s. At the nurse's station There’s the nurse I’d spoken with earlier that day. And she's soon joined by one other. She’s the one who asked the question.
“Do you want a bear?” I’m a little confused at first and then she explains further that a mother who’d lost a child had gifted these bears to the house and they could hand them out to families who had also lost a child. I immediately get choked up at the idea, so I leave the decision up to my daughter. Even though she isn’t feeling well, she nods. We go get the bear.
They are called Comfort Cubs. Each one is a little different, some are squatter than others, each has a unique nose. Each one is weighted. This is not your normal stuffed bear. This is like a brick in a purse. If you carry it around, you are doing so with conviction. I sit the one my daughter had picked on my lap and I immediately begin to cry.
It’s the weight of it. It’s his weight. It’s back on my lap again and it makes me feel…. I’m not sure how it makes me feel. It makes me feel so many things at once. I hold this bear in my lap and it’s like he’s there with me again. I held the bear on one leg and my daughter on the other and it felt like I had them both and that was everything.
I try to put words to my feelings and emotions, but they just get jumbled in my throat. The nice woman just grabs a Kleenex box and puts it in front of me. I don’t have to say anything. Those things I’ve been leaving unsaid are still being heard by those around me. That in and of itself is powerful enough.
I find my husband by the fountain up on the hill by the chapel. He’s already found Ukiah’s rock. We sit up on the park bench outside the chapel and I hold the bear. My husband said quietly. “This is a good thing. You’ve been wanting something like this.” It gets quiet again. Things I should be saying aren’t being said and it really doesn’t matter if they will be.
On the way home, as I’m clutching the bear, I want to tell him how important this is, and at the same time I want to diminish its importance. I want to brush off the fact that I’m clutching on to this bear and patting it lovingly. But at the same time I want to sing the praises of having this bear in the first place. Instead, we make the way home in relative silence.
This bear, this simple stuffed bear gave me a gift I never thought I’d get back, it gave me Ukiah’s weight. Whenever I need him to ground me again, to comfort me, he can take the form of this bear and I can feel him again. It is one of the things that destroyed me when I lost him and now I get to have it back.
Thank you to the mother who gifted those bears. Thank you to the wonderful person at George Mark House who wanted me to have one. Thank you to all the people at George Mark House who created this safe space so that I might have one. Just thank you.
Please help me in thanking this wonderful organization by donating to their #fundabed campaign today.