Sunday, March 2, 2014

How The Whole Bear Thing Got Started Part III

Note from ME: This may come as no surprise to anyone that I have completely confused myself between blog, personal Facebook page and Bear Facebook page. (Especially my son who keeps telling to pack my things up cause we're going to the "home." Lucky for me, he also says this job falls squarely on the shoulders of  the first born child. She lives across the country. Unless Johnson is taking secret video, I think I can stay put for awhile)   Except for pictures of bears, I don't know what I should put there. When I try to link this page with the Bear page, the only thing that posts is my sidebar. I'm much more than techno-challenged. I'm frustrated and ready to throw in the towel. So instead of worrying about I'm just going to write about the bears here.

My writing group, Chat Noir Writers Circle, is much more than a place to share what we've written. It's where we share our life stories. Some of that sharing is in the form of essays, magazine articles, and memoirs; some of it in laughter and tears. We have celebrated births, publications and new haircuts. We have comforted each other in times of illness and death. I'm lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of what I call, without exaggeration, saving grace.

Over the last few years, Chat Diane faced some pretty awful stuff. Her husband, Wally, got sick, spent long days and nights in the hospital; had surgery, spent more time in the hospital; went through radiation and chemotherapy, and spent more time in the hospital before he passed away. Diane was there with him every step of the way. If you've ever slept on one of those plastic hospital chairs that are supposed to recline but don't, you know what it's like to pass a fitful night counting the minutes until the next nurse throws on the lights to check on things. Diane was a trooper throughout the whole ordeal. I feel sure she took good notes, and when the time comes she will write about her experience.

The Chats watched Diane grow thin with worry. We saw her brow furrow and her smile fade when someone asked "how is he?" or "what can I do?" It's as natural as cows eating grass to want to help, but when a person is in caregiving mode, there's not much they can or want to say. Instead they look at you with pleading eyes, which might be interpreted as: "What the fuck can you do? You can make my husband well again, and short of that you can leave me the fuck alone." Having been in those very same situations, I know these unkind thoughts are not meant to hurt. It's important to remember caregivers have only their "patient" on their mind. Not eating, sleeping, showering, buying groceries, or being nice. (Okay, maybe caregivers do spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about showering, as if you can wash the whole nightmare away.)

I've been a caregiver and felt like Diane must have felt as Wally's health deteriorated. Still, I asked the questions. We all did, because it's so hard to see your friend suffer and not be able to help. It's a very generous thing to offer help, but a little selfish too, I admit.  When Wally passed away I wanted to do something to make her smile again. Mostly for her, but for me as well.

Remembering how I felt when I held my "Dad Bear," I asked Diane for one of Wally's shirts and got 10! Not real sure what I had in mind, Diane laid out Wally's T-shirts and gave all his children and grandchildren an opportunity to pick his/her favorite. Because they were all dog lovers, she asked if I could make dogs instead of bears. With a little help from my friend and "cohort," Sorrow Grey, we came up with a pattern that resembled a dog if you squint your eyes and use your imagination. I elongated the bear's nose, added a tail, made the ears floppy, and turned Wally's shirts into bear/dog memories for her whole family.

I'd met Wally at our annual Chat recitals. He was distinguishable by his shock of white hair and by being the only male in the middle of Diane's 14 other guests. I didn't know him well. What I did know came from the stories Diane had written. In "My Last Husband" Diane described a "rugged, handsome, charismatic man who adored his children." Having tried it before unsuccessfully, both Wally and Diane were wary of marriage. After a few years of dating, broken beds and buying a house together, Diane followed her heart and proposed to the man she called her "strong center." They were married on Christmas Eve in 1991 and lived "happily ever after" for over 20 years. It says a lot about a man when his family leaves his memorial service to the tune of "Dancing Queen" by ABBA, don't you think?

2 Bears, 8 Dogs and a Baby
What I didn't know about Wally before I began sewing, I learned as I worked on the dogs.  I discovered he was a proud Marine, that he liked to ride Harley motorcycles, surf and drink Tequila, that he wasn't afraid to wear bright colors or plaid shorts. I learned that each of his heirs had a different vision of him. And I learned that even though it doesn't require fasting or praying, making bears is a kind of soul work.  Each article of clothing carries a story of the person being memorialized.  Each  is as different as the individual. Yet each is testimony to the power of love that does not die. I've made over 35 bears/dogs and felt this spiritual connection every time.

The story doesn't stop there. In fact, it is just the beginning. The first people to see this bear/dog family were the Chats. They saw how the recycled shirts put a smile back on Diane's tear-soaked face.  They saw how good it was for me to give back some of what's been given to me. I don't think there would be a Bears by ME if it weren't for Diane who gave my name to several of her friends, or the Chats who encouraged me to say "yes" to the possibility.

They say the journey of a lifetime begins with the very first step.  Making bears was not the first step of what I call my grief journey. Three years after Dad passed away, however, I do feel like I've turned a corner. I've learned how important it is to let others help me and for me to reach out to others instead of trying to go it alone. Grieving a loved one is an individual journey, yet we all grieve in the universal language of the heart.

If you love someone, go give them a hug and tell them so,
Merry ME

P.S.  It goes without saying that Sweetie has encouraged me every step of the bear-making way.  At least I think it was encouragement when he helped me move my sewing paraphernalia into my very own sewing room. Surely it didn't have anything to do with the constant state of "artistic creativity" in the family room. Love you Sweetie. Thanks for being patient.

1 comment:

Jody said...

I gave up on Facebook and trying to link it ages ago - way too frustrating and confusing, plus there were password issues!

Loved what you told about Diane and Wally. The way you think when you are a caregiver is so true.
Glad the recycled shirts made her smile again.
Making bears is a wonderful thing to do for those who are grieving - and so kind and thoughtful of you.