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|
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,
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.