bearThere he was. So adorable, so soft, so cuddly. Smelling of vanilla and chocolate. And, the little brown bear was ½ price as it sat on the Valentine discount shelf in the Hospital gift store.

What’s that? Did he just say, “Buy me.” I never bought a stuffed animal before but I was compelled to do so now.

Traveling up the hospital elevator I tried stuffing him into my big purse but his feet stuck out.

When I reached the 4th floor I got off the elevator, turned to my right, walked down the hall and came to room 409.

There she was, my dear 34-year-old patient. She was fighting for every breath even while on high flow oxygen. She couldn’t keep her head up as she was lying in her bed at a 90-degree angle to help her breathe better.

I visited Jennifer every month for the last two years. Now she was leaving me.

I pulled the bear out of my bag and positioned it between her head and neck. The bear nestled. “Chocolate” she sighed. She loved chocolate but had not eaten any for months because of her sensitive digestion. In fact, she was no longer eating at all.

I sat holding Jennifer’s hand as she lay with her eyes closed while the bear supported her head. It was a strange triad, me supporting Jennifer by holding her hand, the bear supporting Jennifer’s head and the bear providing relief to us both.

Jennifer passed away later that night with her bear under her chin.

It was Jennifer’s bear, my first, her last.

I’ve learned through my many years of being with the dying to not judge or second-guess my intuition – that gentle voice that tells me to do things that otherwise I would not do. Like making that call on a Saturday or Sunday, or calling a family member that has not spoken to the dying patient in years, or, buying a stuffed bear that smelled of chocolate.

We never know if our action or gift will make all the difference to those we care for. In my experience, it probably will.