Winnie, Friend To The End


Winnie is a Boyd bear (a stuffed toy, cuddly bear, wearing pink overalls) we adopted somewhere around 2001, give or take. She has been an important part of our family.

You must understand that Winnie communicates with us, and vice versa. She has a personality, very strong opinions at times, is a bit of a wise ass, and is not afraid to make obscene gestures when she does not like someone, or gets mad at them. She can be rather fresh at times, but that is a part of what makes Winnie so special.

When Emilee and I were first looking for a counselor to help with some issues from Emilee’s past that were impacting our relationship, Winnie adamantly insisted she come with us to all the visits. She was security and comfort for Emilee, and helped make her feel safe.

If the counselor/therapist did not acknowledge Winnie, or as did happen in a worst case scenario when a therapist said neither Winnie nor I could participate in any sessions, the therapist got the boot. In other words, Winnie was involved in the decision and if she did not approve, she would in no uncertain way express this forcefully in gestures with head, hands, arms and legs, and occasional mooning.

A shake of the head “no”, an Italian hand and arm gesture, a hand under the chin, a kick as in booting someone in the pants or elsewhere, were all in her repertoire. She could also cuss like a sailor if you listened carefully. She could also be sweet, and blow kisses and go for a hug.

When I occasionally took Winnie with me on my morning walk on the hospital floor Emilee had been on for about a month, she would throw kisses to all the patients and many of the staff. But, behind the backs of a few of the doctors that Winnie felt did not have the bedside manner that they should have, she exercised her arms and legs in less than kind gestures.

The staff were not sure if I had all my marbles. (Who is?). Winnie didn’t help in that regard, as the sign for crazy was in her repertoire, and she jokingly would point to me and then make that circular sign by the side of her right temple. Needed smiles and chuckles were usually the result.

Winnie often comforted Emilee at night, when Emilee’s head would be a whir of thoughts about dying, thoughts that she couldn’t speak out loud to anyone else, thoughts that only Winnie knew of and must have promised not to tell.

Winnie absolutely loves the grandchildren. Especially our granddaughter Brynn. Not everybody “gets” Winnie. Brynn gets Winnie. And it was, to say bittersweet so understates the intensity of my emotion, but bittersweet it was, the day Emilee asked Brynn if she would take over responsibility for Winnie when Mimi was no longer here to do so. I don’t think I ever saw Brynn’s eyes open so wide. Mine filled with tears.

I had been consulted previously, with thorough and wholehearted support. There was only one stipulation, that Brynn would love and cherish Winnie and take good care of this precious cargo.

Now, something I haven’t mentioned yet. There are two Winnies. The only way to tell them apart is by their outfits, and that the slightly older Winnie (Winnie “A”) is a little more soiled than the newer Winnie (Winnie “B”). Winnie “A” has pink overalls, and Winnie “B” has light blue.

The bequeathing of the Winnies involved both Winnies, but on one condition. Mimi got to keep Winnie “A” with her in the hospital, for company, until she died. Winnie “B” was delighted to be with and go home with Brynn, and sad to leave Mimi and her twin.

Winnie “A” was of course honored to stay close to Emilee, and would have had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, if anyone tried to pry her away from Emilee before the final moment.

And so, about a week before Emilee’s death, the transfer took place. Brynn had a little difficulty leaving the hospital with only one Winnie, but she reluctantly admitted that Mimi needed Winnie “A”’s company. And she came back to the hospital two more times, bringing Winnie “B” so they could visit with each other and not get too sad without their twin, and so Winnie “B” could say goodbye to Mimi.

The twins were reunited after Emilee’s death. Again, bittersweet barely begins to describe the twins’ reunion. They were unconsolably sad that Mimi was now with the angels, but happy that they carried on in their mission to bring joy and protection to their adoptive parent Brynn.

I have been entrusted with the care of two other family members, also a set of twins, known as the Sunny Bunny twins. This way, I have not been left alone.

They are rabbits with very long ears, adorable green and white checked overalls with yellow sunflowers on them (one of Emilee’s favorite outfits before she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer was overalls), and very melancholy eyes.

The Sunny Bunny twins have been wonderful during the worst of my grief, encouraging me to sing or dance my heart out, to cry, to laugh, to feel joy along with the sorrow. Once or twice I had to console them, but most of the time they console me. We have had a couple of rough days where we consoled each other.

I go to my stepdaughter’s once a week for dinner. I bring both Sunny Bunnies and they get to visit with the Winnies. One time I forgot the bunny twins and my granddaughter read me the riot act. I never forgot them again.

They love to get out and go for a ride, and one has been riding shotgun in the passenger dashboard lately, thinking she is hot stuff watching out for crazy cars and warning me about this and that (and yelling at me if I drive too fast and forget to leave plenty of following room).

So, the Winnie twins and the Sunny Bunny twins are well cared for. Mimi is smiling. Brynn is holding up her part of the bargain, giving lots of love to Winnie “A” and “B”. I miss them tremendously at times, but one, or both, of the Sunny Bunny twins, gives me a hug and helps dry my tears, and then I am okay again. And we get to visit at least once a week.

And life goes on, as it is meant to be, as Mimi/Emilee would want it to be, the bitter with the sweet…with the sweet ever so slowly gently working its way to nudge the bitter to a space and a place where it does not seep invasively into all the other cracks and crevices of my being.

Neal Klein
Life After Emilee, on the loss of my wife to pancreatic cancer. I’m not accepting comments right now but please feel free to get in touch via my Contact page.