At my hospice, we have a group of seamstresses that make teddy bears for bereaved people. The bereaved person brings in an article of clothing from their loved one who has died and the ladies make that shirt or robe into a bear. The bears have beautiful eyes that look soulfully at you and their bodies bring life to a favorite polo shirt or t-shirt from that trip to Cancun. I’ve been privileged to witness tearful people gasp as they receive their bears, some with the polo shirt logos on the breast, some with details sewn into paws or on collars.
Just recently, we agreed to do several bears for a very young woman who tragically lost her husband. She gave explicit directions as to how she wanted her bears made and we gave them to a very accomplished seamstress. The bears, however came back made incorrectly because the volunteer misread the directions. I spoke with this young woman who tearfully said that it was all right, she would take the bears anyway. I told her no, we wanted to make good on what she requested but that I was so sorry, it would take a bit longer. She told me “that’s ok, it doesn’t really matter.”
I’m guessing you, like me, when hearing the words, “it doesn’t matter” realize instinctively that it matters very much. In those words you hear frustration, weariness and deep, deep pain. At that moment, if I had to learn to sew, we were going to make good on those bears.
I talked to her many times since. Each time, I called her and updated her on the progress of the bears. It was hard to find someone who could undo what was done and then do it correctly. After all, the shirts that were given to us could not be replaced, so everything had to be taken apart and redone to her original request.
Every time I talked to her to give her updates, she would hold her sorrow in and then start to cry as we discussed the shirts from her husband. I wanted to keep her updated at every step, because frankly, she had been through enough already and did not need additional heartache.
It took two months to find the right seamstress from those who looked the project over, get the work done and get the bears back to me. But we did it, thanks to a very patient. understanding volunteer. I made the call that the bears were finished, leaving a message on her machine that the bears would be at one of our offices for her to pick up.
The next day, I retrieved my voice mail messages and came upon one from this young woman. She had gone to the office and picked up her bears. Her message was long and full of tears as she expressed her joy and gratitude at receiving her beautiful bears. She cried unabashedly on the message, telling me that no words could express her joy at having these bears and that the volunteers who made them were angels. I could hear the relief mixed with happiness mixed with the sorrow of years ahead coping with this tragedy.
I know from the emotions expressed that this young woman will never forget the kindness of our volunteers. I can share this message with these selfless seamstresses so that they can hear firsthand the impact of their volunteering.
But you know what? I’m keeping this message for myself too. When days are long and it seems as though nothing is going right, I’m going to play that message for my soul. And after hearing her raw gratitude, I’m going to keep going.