Christmas Day 1993. I was seven years old opening gifts at my grandparents’ house. A small, narrow box was handed to me. I remember feeling something soft and squishy when I reached inside; excitement ran through me. Then I pulled out a teddy bear, one unlike all my others. He was tall and skinny, not round and fat. He had limbs that rotated 360 degrees in their sockets, and he was filled with beans, not stuffing. I can imagine how hard my grandparents looked to find me a unique bear like this – I collected teddy bears and thus had every one imaginable.
I named him “Beary” and very quickly he became my baby.
I bought him shirts and sweaters and put a bandage on his leg when he got injured. “Grammy” once sewed his foot when a few beans fell out. In second grade he came to school for show and tell. If all my dolls and stuffed animals were also my children, I admit (shamelessly) that Beary was my favorite.
That little bear has been more places than most humans, and seen more than any ol’ bear should see. He came to Hawaii – twice – on family vacations, and came back with a souvenir lei each time. He lived in my college dorm room for four years and studied abroad in Russia with me. When I moved to my first home one state over from the rest of my family, Beary came with me. For most of the last year, he sat on my shelf in my bedroom wearing his “Hug Me” t-shirt.
She was as sick as they warned me she would be. She was not the Grammy I recognized. Last weekend she was making cookies and ironing at my house , and now she was quickly succumbing to the negative consequences of bilateral pneumonia that came on almost overnight. She was so weak and so confused; it was hard to know what to say to her let alone fight back tears. I reached for Beary, who was stuffed in my purse, and wiggled him in front of her face. Her small nod let me know she recognized him, but she was unable to smile or reach for him. I left Beary under her arms that night, and gave Grammy a kiss on her cheek while telling her I had to go but Beary would stay here by her side.
By the next morning, her condition was worse, and on the day following, our family was told to stay near…just in case. Grammy was no longer breathing on her own, and doctors couldn’t find the cause of the blood disease they discovered she had. One priest came by to pray with the family around Grammy in the hospital bed. Toward the end of his prayer, he held onto Beary, who was sitting by Grammy’s heart, as if the little bear was part of all of this too.
An alarm would go off in her room, and they’d rush the family out and rush more doctors in. Meanwhile, Beary was on the inside of the hospital room with her. That brought me comfort. And a miracle happened: we didn’t lose her that day like we thought we would. She was hanging in there, and toward the end of the week, she was well enough to poke Beary in the stomach to let me know she was happy he was there. When they moved Grammy off the Critical Care Unit to the medical floor, doctors commented on how Beary rode it out with Grammy all the way through.
Grammy is still in the hospital, and Beary is now home with me again, sitting back on the shelf. I’ll put on his winter sweater when I take Christmas boxes out of the attic, and life will be back to normal for him. Our hope is that life will soon be back to normal for Grammy too. If she’s well enough, Grammy will be home for Christmas and we’ll all gather at her house like we do every year. I will definitely be bringing Beary with me for the visit – back to where it all began 20 Christmases ago…