Two friends once gave me something I didn’t realize I needed. It was small, brown, and fluffy. Its eyes looked sad and longing, just as I felt that day.
My friends, Reme and Sara, gave me a special gift, a stuffed animal. I remember them timidly standing at my feet, searching for words to say as they stared at me, weak, disheveled, and semiconscious in my hospital bed. Reme reached her arms out to me and handed me a soft, brown stuffed dog. I took the dog in my arms and then blacked out once again from pain. When I awoke, I saw long, fluffy ears resting on the coarse hospital bed sheets on top of me, and two eyes staring directly at me, silently asking, how are you? I really don’t know, I replied. It’s eyes stared at me as if waiting…expecting for me to divulge each and every word of fear, will power, hope, anxiety, and despair that comes when experiencing chronic pain.
I named my stuffed dog, Jakey, after my friend’s real dog, and it has never left my bed. Jakey is the only one that knows the extent of my physical, and thus, emotional pain throughout the years. He has seen me screaming in pain and blacking out in the hospital; he has allowed me to hold him so tightly he would suffocate if he were real. He spent endless days and nights silently listening to my fears, hopes, laughs, and cries, always looking at me with his big eyes as if saying, tell me more. Jakey, my confidant. I burdened him with all my tumultuous feelings and thoughts as I lay in bed day after day, year after year, in pain. And the nights I needed to be held, I held him.
I never thought such a simple gift could be so profound. What convinced my friends at that time to buy a stuffed animal for me, a 26-year-old, I will never know. I lost touch with them years ago, but their gift is forever with me. Their gift has filled a void within me throughout all my hospital stays and all the years that followed in which I felt misunderstood, angry, scared, confused, alone, and exhausted.
We all need someone–or something–to talk to; someone who listens to us without judgment, and sometimes, without a reaction or response; someone to whom we can tell everything without trying to leave out parts of our story. With Jakey, I never worried what he might think, if he would suffer hearing my sufferings, or if he would think I complained too much or clung to irrational hopes and desires. Jakey was my journal.
It is 19 years later. I am 46-years-old now. Jakey’s resting place, night and day, is still in my bed. He holds all my memories, my trauma, my pain. He knows my despair. He knows my struggles. He knows my courage and story of recovery, and my flare ups. He knows me better than anyone else. He knows my truths.
My six-year-old daughter knows Jakey. She is thrilled that I share a love for stuffed animals as she does. She giggles and kisses Jakey on the special nights I give him to her, and she gives me one of her stuffed animals to sleep with in return. When she is sick or having a bad day, I tuck Jakey in her arms. Jakey is healing.
My daughter is too young to understand my experiences with pain and the meaning behind my love for my one, special stuffed dog, but when I see her talk to her stuffed animals, repeatedly hugging them so tightly that the stuffing thins, dragging them everywhere with her until the material starts ripping, and pouting when she can’t take one or two or three into the store with her, I think, perhaps a part of her does understand.
Sometimes the best gift that says “I care” is something as simple as a stuffed animal. It is something that we can cling to knowing that we are never as alone as we may think. Behind that stuffed animal is the person who unexpectedly gave it to us.