When I was going through my cancer treatments, I received an assortment of beautiful flower arrangements, thoughtful cards, chocolates, and a floppy grey teddy bear. Each gift brought a smile to my face and warmed my weary heart. As time passed, the flowers became memories, the chocolates were consumed (mostly by others since I couldn’t tolerate sweets), and the cards were saved in a plastic tub somewhere. However, the gray teddy bear remained vigilant and stalwart on his post in my room, still wearing a crooked smile, smooshed and bedraggled from lots of hugging.
Who would think a stuffed animal would remain part of a home décor years after its purpose has been fulfilled? I didn’t understand it myself until I read about Schlepp, a bear who had the same assignment as my gray teddy; to bring comfort to a fifty-something woman going through chemo. With permission, I share Anne’s story. I would guess we all have Schlepps in our lives.
The first bear, a small tan baby with white angel wings, came wrapped around a bud vase and was delivered by my neighbor, Linda. “I fell in love with this little guy the minute I saw him in the florist’s case,” Linda explained. “I knew he was just what you needed. Bears can be such a comfort to people who are ill.”
I thanked Linda for her thoughtfulness, admired the cute container, and set the vase on a table in the living room where it remained for several days until its rose died. Then the vase with the bear was moved for storage to a high shelf in a closet and forgotten.
I was surprised when not too many days later Linda arrived at my door with a second bear, this one a larger white version of the first. “I want you to put this on your nightstand, and when you are feeling sad, it will be there to love you and give you comfort.”
“Right,” I thought as I again thanked her for her compassion. I did put the bear on my nightstand and smiled at it when I passed, but I certainly didn’t think of it as solace for the deep depression the news of breast cancer had caused.
Bear number three, a pale gray sans wings, came from a different source, our neighbor Shauna. She delivered him in a tissue-lined bag with a card suggesting that she hoped her gift would help appease my anxiety.
“What’s with these sentimental women,” I appealed to my husband Richard after Shauna left. “You give bears to little kids. They aren’t for fifty-seven-year-old grown-ups!”
His smile seemed to confirm my appraisal, and nothing more was said about bears for several days until we paid a visit to an elderly friend in a nursing home. In one of the two chairs in her small room sat a sizable teddy, a gift from a family member.
“Just throw him on the floor,” Helen told Richard as he approached the chair.
“I’ll hold him,” I volunteered.
At first, I set teddy beside me, my left arm around his shoulder. As Richard visited with Helen, I enjoyed feeling the closeness of something soft. Before I knew it, I had teddy’s tummy next to my chest and was embracing him with both arms.
“I’ve got a confession to make,” I said sheepishly as we got into the car after our visit. “Hugging that bear really made me feel good.”
“Then we’d better go bear shopping after my office hour on Friday,” Richard responded.
True to his word, my dear husband drove us to Scottsdale Fashion Mall where we poked into several toy stores without success. However, when we reached FAO Schwartz, we knew we’d come to the right place. Bears in abundance lined the window. Then began the testing process, the act of choosing just the right one. Much to the amusement of passers-by in the mall, Richard and I unashamedly hugged bear after bear. Some were too small, others too hard or scratchy. Some lacked a compassionate look in their eyes that I felt was essential. After what must have been close to an hour of bear hugging and narrowing the choice down to several, I knew I must have Schlepp, even though sixty plus dollars seemed a mighty lot to pay for a stuffed toy. Almost three feet from ear to toe with floppy arms and legs, a pot belly, eyes close set that tugged at my heartstrings, and a snout that melted into my shoulder, Schlepp was the bear for me. I could hardly wait to get to a private spot where I could hold him to my heart’s content.
In the weeks since his purchase, Schlepp has been a godsend. When nothing else has brought comfort to the deep hole in the pit of my being, holding Schlepp has provided peace to my soul. Bears are a good thing. (By Anne Clement)