by Linda J. Austin


Maine, 1992 - The brief phone interview was over. But before I hung up she said, "The only thing you have to bring with you to the facilitator training is something to hug - something soft...a stuffed animal would be good." My first thought was I don't have any stuffed animals. I'm 42 years old. I couldn't see what something to hug had to do with becoming a facilitator for the Center for Grieving Children. The Center worked with parents and children - all of us are children, even if we are adult children. I did have a soft babydoll that I had made - she was dressed in the dedication gown I made for my daughter - who turned out to be a boy. My husband didn't think boys should ever wear dresses.


There is something very comforting about holding something soft and squishy, being able to squeeze as tight as you need to. It is comforting to sit cuddling this softness, rocking back and forth - the motion of soothing an infant. Wow, that motion also soothes me. My current stuffed cuddly is a leopard with fat paws that I can hold in my hand and stroke. Sometimes I sit him on the shelf by my desk - smile at that big black nose, sewn on smile - a constant that doesn't change. Sometimes I think he slumps over just so I will pick him up.

When I made the last flight to care for my mother I forgot to bring the doll with me. I went to the closest store and looked at the stuffed animals -finally settled on a gray puppy with a bowtie. He was just the right size to cuddle - like holding a newborn. My sister wondered about my sanity. When I sat in the recliner in mom's bedroom I held the puppy, stroked it, sat it beside me. I slept with it. I talked to it. Let's face it sometimes there is no one there to listen. Sometimes people don't want to hear what you want to say or need to say. Sometimes we keep things bottled up inside because there is no one to listen. It's not about caring because there were a lot of people around who "cared" but they weren't ready to "hear".

My best friend's mother recently died. I met her mother once - we talked of painting and poetry and dying. She loved cats but couldn't have one any more. She showed me pictures of her cats. When I got home, I looked around on-line and found life-like stuffed cats - I supposed you could have hugged them (they weren't very soft). I ordered one and had it sent to my friend's mother. She was delighted. She had always talked to her cats, now she had a cat to talk to.

When people enter nursing homes they cannot bring their pets. This is a great loss. A stuffed animal is not the same but depending on the person, it may be a comfort.


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