February 5, 2019

By Sanda Rathamone

"When the heart weeps for what it's lost, the soul rejoices for what it's gained." -  an old Sufi saying

I recently read a book, Letters to Sam: A Grandfather's Lessons on Love, Loss, and The Gifts of Life by Daniel Gottlieb. It was a fast read; I finished the book in just a day! I have been banking on some serious reading lately...

Letters to Sam is a memoir, written as a book of letters from grandfather to grandson. Daniel, a psychologist who has quadriplegia (from a terrible accident) writes letters to Sam, who has autism. Daniel decided to write these letters as a way for Sam to navigate his way through a world with autism and help him find the beauty and happiness in his "different-ness."

There was a letter entry titled, "Losing Your Binky," that really spoke to me. In this letter, Daniel writes about the time when Sam turns four and how his parents prepares him for a big change: losing his binky. His parents decide to make a trade on his fourth birthday; a new toy for the binky. When Sam got home from toy shopping, he cried and wanted his binky. He cried, saying he "didn't want to be four anymore." 

A week after his birthday, Sam learned to detach from his binky and made a successful transition. 

Reading this letter reminded me so much of myself after Elijah died. When we were in the hospital, a chaplain gave us a teddy bear, which would later become "Elijah's Bear." We didn't have the chance to buy Elijah a teddy bear before he was born and so, this bear has become something quite valuable - I don't know what I would do if we lost his bear.

His bear was also with him when he was in the hospital's morgue and then at the funeral home, which we would later take home with us on our final day of goodbyes. In a sense, I could feel that Elijah's Bear held his spirit, or a part of it. And I became very much attached to it.

I don't remember if it was immediately after taking the bear home, but I would sleep with Elijah's Bear every night. I didn't feel comfortable sleeping without it; it was something I needed before I fell asleep. I would wake up most mornings with the bear still in my arms and sometimes, on the floor or somewhere else on the bed. Occasionally, I would lay my head on top of the bear and sleep on its belly/legs. Like Sam, I was attached to this bear like he was to his binkey. 

This sleeping routine with Elijah's Bear made me feel so small, like a child. I would panic if I couldn't find the bear.

There are also times when I take the bear on car rides or fishing trips. Many times, the bear accompanies me during the heaviest waves of grief or on days when all I want is to lay in bed and cry. Sometimes, the bear would sit in my lap while I am blogging or lay above my head when I am reading or in between my husband and I under the blankets. I would even bring the bear with me in my "big purse" on days when I felt alone or was alone.

Elijah's Bear is one of the things we have left of him. It is one of the things I could touch that felt like him. And I kept it comfortably close as much as I could.

Of course, I knew that there would come a day when my dependence on the bear would need to lessen. My dream after Elijah died was to pass down his bear and I wouldn't be able to do it with it being all beat up and dingy looking (after all the sleeping and crying on it and washing).

Almost three years after Elijah died, I no longer find myself reaching for the bear most nights. It was probably a few months ago that both my husband and I began to notice how I had stopped sleeping with Elijah's Bear. At first, I thought it must have been me being too tired to worry about it before bed, but it wasn't.

I realized that some part of me was healing or accepting, or both. 

Yes, there are still times when I pick up Elijah's Bear and cuddle or hold it tight to my chest or belly, but it is only just for a little while. And then it "passes" (something I hadn't noticed before), helping to reassure me that I am okay and will be okay without it, or with it nearby. Instead of my arms, I now place the bear in the corner of the bed or somewhere above our heads, on top of the mountain of pillows.

In the letter, Daniel writes to Sam:

"So when you feel the pain of loss, please don't grab at something to take away the pain. Just have faith that pain, like everything else is transitional. Through it, you will learn about your ability to deal with adversity. You will learn about how you manage stress. You will feel pride. On the other side of pain, you will learn something about who you are."
Sleeping without Elijah's Bear is not some accomplishment or a check off the grief list; it was something that I hadn't known that I could ever do. In a way, I felt crippled by my need for comfort; my arms would hurt from holding the bear, stiff in one position all night.

Yet, the pride is unseen and not felt; just an awareness that with time, transitions will cross my path  and this is when I have the choice to go on without holding back, without heaviness, and without fear.

"Everything is temporary - good feelings, bad feelings, binkies, grief." - Daniel Gottlieb.

With love,
Must Read:
Read Elijah's Story, "From Gender Reveal to a Spontaneous Delivery"

Photo: malloo

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