I Lost My Son's Beloved Bear :(My son just turned 6, and he has had as his constant companion a scruffy, worn out looking bear since before he could walk. Of course, it was not scruffy and worn out at the beginning, it was new and had a red ribbon. Within the first few months, he worked a hole in the bear's left ear which he used as a finger hold - or sometimes a toe-hold, comically dragging the bear around hooked on his little toe once he started toddling around. Sometimes he would spin the bear around by that hole in its ear, either by finger or toe. It has always been there, the bear and my little boy pretty much a package deal for the past 5 years or so. If you were to look at all the pictures we have of my son, that grubby little bear is visible 75% of the time, and in the other 25% I happen to know he is just out of camera shot.
Over the years, I have probably spent a hundred hours of my life searching for that bear when it was misplaced around the house, or left in one of the cars. On a few occasions we left him at restaurants, and even left him in a hotel once I think. But we were always lucky enough to get him back. I knew how much that bear meant to my son, and I even recognized that he was important to my wife and I. We had discussed not letting my son take him out of the house previously for fear of losing him, and over about the past year we'd gotten him to be able to leave the house sometimes without it, or at least leave the bear in the car when he did come with us. But the bear still found his way along at least half the time.
Well on Friday I lost him for good. It is Wednesday as I write this and I am still absolutely sick about it. It is safe to say that I underestimated how much that bear meant to me, because I have actually cried every day since losing him. I had always expected that some day my little boy would outgrow him, starting with leaving him home, then leaving him in bed and, finally, on a shelf or in a closet somewhere. But I always thought I would have him as a little piece of my son's childhood, a part of him that would not change and would not grow up.
Believe it or not, I don't consider myself a sentimental guy. I don't actually take that many pictures or keep a lot of mementos, souvenirs, etc. There just aren't that many inanimate things that hold much special meaning for me. But that bear was one that did.
After work on Friday I picked up my boy and took him to see the Smurfs movie at Memorial City Mall in Houston (the only place the movie was playing at a workable time that day). My wife usually at least attempts to get him to leave the bear home or in the car, but I have never worried about it as much, so I didn't even think twice when he dragged it along. During the movie, I remember seeing the bear sitting in the seat next to my son and I picked it up and held it in my lap, thinking that we might forget it after the movie otherwise. When the movie was done, we walked down to the food court and I asked him if he wanted pizza, and his little face lit up as he enthusiastically said, "yes!", so we walked over to Sbarro's. I remember he was putting the bear on my tray as I was ordering and trying to pay, and I handed him back and told him to hold the bear. That's the last time I remember specifically seeing him, though I know exactly what happened next.
We walked to a table close by in the food court, sat and ate pizza. My son tends to stand up a lot while he's at the table, and the bear must have been in his lap. So when he stood up, the bear ended up on the floor. When we were done with pizza, my son wanted to go to Target to get Carla Veloso (one of the racing cars from Cars 2), and since he's a good boy and doesn't ask for much, I rarely say no when he does. So we headed off to Target on the other side of the mall, spent about 15-20 minutes there looking at toys and getting dishwasher detergent. After going through the checkout I was picking up the plastic bag with the detergent and, now having something in my hands, I realized neither I nor my son was holding the bear. I felt immediate panic inside as I asked my son, "Where's your bear?". "What?", he replied, stopping and looking at me. I could see he was also just recognizing that neither of us had him. "The bear is in the car", he said hopefully. My mind was racing, trying to remember where I'd seen him last. I said, "No...", my feet already moving me back toward the food court, "no, he's not."
I led my boy back to our table, running as fast as I could without outpacing his little legs. When I got to the table my heart sank. No bear. I looked under the table, on the chairs, on the dirty food court floor. No bear. The next 30 minutes was an exercise in despair, as I walked around the food court asking the workers and patrons if they'd seen the bear. One of the cleaning crew said she'd seen it but didn't know where it had gone. It hadn't been turned in at the lost and found. I peered into the garbage bins and didn't see it, but I didn't actually pull out the bins and go through them because I guess at some level it was inconceivable that anyone would throw out the bear. With only about 10 minutes until the mall closed, my little boy crying and me just barely holding back tears, we walked to the car and drove home.
The next morning I printed up some color flyers at Kinko's and got to the mall before any of the shops were open. I checked again at the information desk if anyone had turned in the bear, but no luck. I told the lady there that I was going to put the flyers on the food court tables and she advised me that security would probably stop me, but of course I did it anyway. When security did finally come, he was very nice and didn't make me pick up the 60 or so flyers I'd already put on the tables, and he even offered to put one up in the cleaning crew office bulletin board. But he did say I couldn't put any more out.
My wife found another bear on eBay which might actually be the same model as the one we lost. It is hard to say since the real bear was so ratty and worn out, but it's plausible. It's brown, semi-plush and made by Carter's. The eyes are little round, hard plastic buttons and the nose is light brown, also hard plastic but bigger and somehow softer looking. The red ribbon on the real bear came off about a year and half ago, and managed to stay around being tied on for another month or so before finally being lost for good. I guess I should have taken that as a warning shot. Anyway, the eBay bear has the ribbon.
I can't get the bear out of my head. I so regret not pulling out the trash at the mall and going through it with my bare hands, and not offering the cleaning crew all the money in my pocket to help me find it. I didn't think of offering the money until later on, but I certainly would have paid almost anything to get it back. I am tortured by the thought that the bear might have been in the trash 5 feet away from me the whole time, and I just didn't do everything I could to find him. At the time I was thinking more that another child may have found him and taken him home, but looking back I doubt any parents would have permitted that, worn as it was.
On the one hand, I'm angry that some sociopath would find something so clearly loved and not turn it in to the lost and found. But I guess not everyone has kids, nor does everyone who has them love them like I do mine. I am hoping that the eBay bear will make everything better. Maybe my son will love him too; maybe all the magic will transfer to the new bear. Maybe I'll be able to forgive myself and forget the old bear, or behave like a 41 year old man who lost a piece of cloth stuffed with foam, with some hard plastic pieces glued to it. But now I know what it feels like to lose something that's truly important and irreplaceable. This event, to me, was literally the loss of a loved one. All people eventually die, so we expect it and, sad though it makes us, accept it at some level. But that bear did not have to die. It could have stayed with me, slept in my bed for the rest of my life - long after my son had grown up and moved away. I think having that expectation is what makes this loss so wrenching for me.
I don't know what I hope to accomplish by writing this - it's probably just therapeutic. But maybe someone who reads it will find a ragged, lost stuffed animal some day and will turn it into the lost and found, now that they know how much it might mean to someone, somewhere. And the lesson I take from this is never to leave anything untried when it really matters. Don't wait and wonder whether you could have done more, just go through the damned garbage at the food court - who cares if everyone thinks you're a weirdo?
11/9/2011 UPDATE: I'm feeling much better now. Thanks for all your supportive comments - it's good to know others can relate :)
While we were waiting for eBay Bear to arrive, I told my son that the Bear Fairy had found his bear and was going to return it to us, but first he had to fix him up - give him a new ribbon, fix the hole in his ear and make him clean and fluffy again. When he arrived a few days later, I was not sure he would be accepted back into the family. But after a couple weeks of uncertainty he was gradually "adopted" and at this point he IS the original bear in our hearts and minds. He's even starting to look a little matted :) My son still occasionally asks to take the bear into movies, etc., but now he never argues when we say he needs to stay in the car.