Most of our mementos come from a great place of joy, but they can also originate from a place of tragedy or sadness.
That doesn’t make them any less special or any less treasured. In fact, in some cases this can make our mementos even more significant.
I have this stuffed animal pile that my child with special needs has long outgrown any interest in.
They remain tucked securely and safely away in a blue fabric bin with frayed edges in the corner of his closet. It still has a distinct new baby smell mixed with the sterilization of hospital rooms.
Perhaps once an eerie smell has over years become familiar with a form of acceptance and acknowledgment that it’s a representation of a piece of our story.
Occasionally, I’m forced to move the bin to vacuum or when I need to get a step stool to reach the top of my son’s closet for his anti-suffocation pillowcases and benik splints.
I’ve been known to take out each stuffed animal and examine each one carefully as if I’m assessing his or her health status periodically.
I did have a day or two when I questioned their value.
I contemplated their space in the closet in relation to “letting go.”
The king of the stuffed animal pile is a Make-A-Bear that was given to my son on Christmas morning in 2008, he had survived the night after we had consented to a blood plasma transfusion in a desperate attempt to save his life.
Barely coherent and heavily medicated myself, I remained separated from my first-born son on the very first Christmas of our lives as a new family. I sent my husband to his bedside so he wasn’t alone on Christmas while I clung to the comfort of a priest at my bedside offering me a rosary and a prayer Christmas morning as we asked God to spare my son’s life.
My husband called and reported that our son had been gifted by a hospital Santa with a Build-A Bear in a Merry Christmas shirt.
It was his first Christmas gift.
Soon after, all the rest of his stuffed animal friends joined him; a small teddy bear angel, a frog, a musical elephant, giraffe, a dressed up teddy bear, panda and a miniature get well balloon – which to this day nearly eight years later is still inflated and resides in that blue bin keeping all the stuffed animals company.
On day fifteen they told us there was no hope and we removed our child from life support, forty-five minutes later he took his first bottle, and came home two days later with hospice care which expected our son to pass away at home shortly thereafter.
However, he grew stronger by the day, although it was obvious his recovery would come with significant challenges and a profound and very serious disability early on.
That blue tattered bin is a reminder of where we started and how far we’ve come.
That stuffed crew kept him comfort when I couldn’t get to him, stayed by his side night and day, through all the times doctor’s jammed their thick fingers down his tiny throat to demonstrate he had no gag reflex, they were there the moment he was baptized in the hospital and served as witnesses to the event.
They were there through it all. Those furry stuffed animals. They are precious mementos and it seems hardly fair to send them off to the goodwill after the incredible service they provided to my son in his time of need - tiny stuffed heroes.
Years from now I imagine his little brother finding them in a trunk, half rotten and covered in dust, wondering why on earth I stashed them away for decades.
I hope he looks back on pictures and remembers the story we’ll tell him about the significance of those stuffed animals.
The mementos from the hard times can tug and find a place in your heart so deep that they eventually bring us just as much joy and comfort as the mementos from the happy times.